Tag Archives: sin

What The Bible Really Says About Homosexual Behavior

    The words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” are English words introduced within the last two centuries, however, the behaviors those words refer to are addressed in the Bible. So what DOES it say that deals with those behaviors?

    The first reference is in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels have come to warn Lot and his family they need to leave Sodom because God’s judgment is about to happen because of the sins of Sodom. (And, by the way, “to know” someone is the Genesis way of saying two people became intimate and had sexual relations with each other.)

  • GENESIS 19:4-5 “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

    Many now-a-days argue that the sin of Sodom was being inhospitable. But Jesus’ brother, Jude, writes of their sin as “sexual immorality” and “unnatural lust.”

  • JUDE 7 [speaking of the Lord destroying those Israelites in the wilderness who did not believe…] “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

    Likewise, in Second Peter, chapter 2, the apostle Peter writes about the way God judged various ones in the days of Genesis, including Sodom and Gomorrah, then the Lord knows how…

  • 2 PETER 2:9b-10 “… to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment — especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.”

    In giving the Israelites the laws concerning proper sexual behavior, sex with relatives and with animals are prohibited along with…

  • LEVITICUS 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
  • LEVITICUS 20:13 “If  man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

    The apostle Paul shares the same standard in the First Century…

  • ROMANS 1:26-27 “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
  • 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • 1 TIMOTHY 1:8-9 “…the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.”

    Many now-a-days argue that the rules back then also say we are not to wear clothing of two different materials, or eat pork, and even include a requirement to stone to death a disrespectful child, along with a whole host of other “laws” that we don’t feel it necessary to follow today.

    And that’s true. Here’s the difference… In Acts 15, in the very first ecumenical council, Christians from all over gathered together and sought God and asked if someone becoming a Christian had to follow all of the Old Testament laws. After discussion and prayer, they unanimously agreed there were four things from the Old Testament Jewish laws that would still be required of Christians:

  • ACTS 15:28-29 “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”

    Notice, the requirement includes ALL of the laws about sexual immorality from the Old Testament. One of the frustrating parts of our conflict in this day and age is that the Christian standard is to be: “NO sexual immorality,” but many just want to focus on the homosexual sins. It was never supposed to be about homosexuality, but rather about faithfulness in marriage between one man and one woman.

    And while we’re at it… that ruling in Acts releases us from all the killing and stoning of sinners, too.

    One other thing that’s important in this context is the objection some raise that ‘Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, so why should we care?’

    In Matthew 19 (and also Mark 10), Jesus is given the chance to clarify and describe what marriage is supposed to be like, when he’s asked by the Pharisees about divorce. He does not talk about any two individuals (or one man and many wives or two same gender people), but rather speaks of God’s plan for marriage being one man and one woman.

  • MATTHEW 19:4-5 “ ‘Haven’t you read.’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?’ ”

    The final consideration, in my understanding thus far, is this: Since the Bible clearly identifies homosexual behavior as sin, what should we do about it? After all, there are other sins and people with those sins can be ordained and get married and more. Why do we pick on this one sin?

    The difference is that in all of those other examples, as well as with homosexual sin, the difference is whether or not the sinner repents of their sin.

  • 1 JOHN 1:8-10 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness, If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

    (This originally appeared in The Circuit Rider, the bimonthly newsletter of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, as a sidebar story to an article about General Conference 2019 describing a bit of the history and background of that historic meeting. The contents of that article appear as a separate post here.)

 

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Weeping Jesus

     In January of 2002, my family visited the National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. After we explained to our girls the horrific story of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, we began walking through the memorial that has since been built on the spot where the building once stood. I have never been so moved as I was that day.

     At each end are huge gates… one representing the moment before the bombing (9:01 a.m.) and the other representing the moment after the attack (9:03 a.m.). And in between those two gates… in between those two moments… was the blast and its aftermath. Each of the lives lost is symbolized by an empty chair bearing the name of one of the 168 victims. Walking around the reflecting pool, looking at the chairs and the remains of the one piece of wall that still stands, I slowly began to realize that the chairs were of different sizes… and I remembered that 19 of those killed were innocent children at play in their day-care center. And I was struck by the horror of it all over again.

     At each end of the memorial site stand two church buildings that had also been damaged in the blast. Across the street at the eastern end is the United Methodist Church, which included an open chapel on the grounds when they rebuilt, complete with helpful brochures, healing pamphlets, and even free Bibles, offering the peace of Christ and the hope of Jesus to any who want to leave the terror behind.

     Across the street at the western end is a Roman Catholic Church, that commissioned a memorial of their own when they rebuilt: a statue of Jesus, with his back to the grisly destruction, weeping.  weeping Jesus

     Jesus Christ, weeps in the face of such hatred that would be so violent and murderous. He turns his back to such evil and destruction. God cannot stand sin… sin cannot abide in his presence. According to the Gospels, God the Father hid his face from His own Son when He was bearing our sins on that cross so long ago.

     Engraved on the gates of the Oklahoma City Memorial are these words: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever…May all who leave here know the impact of violence…”

     We need to remember. Especially in light of the unimaginable events that we have since lived through lately. Bombings. Riots. Protests. Police shootings. Shootings of police. A truck deliberately crashing into pedestrians. Mass murder at a nightclub. A teen gunman in a mall luring people to their deaths. And that’s just the last few weeks in non-war zones. And looking ahead, we see events like the political rallies and even the Olympics coming up soon and wonder if we’re destined to endure even more heartbreak, sorrow, and terror.

     Terrorism is well named. For it is terror we feel when faced with these unthinkable, cowardly acts of violence. There is no protection it seems, no hope, no safety, no peace, when faced with terror.

     Yet, we are reminded by these two churches, and by the Scriptures, that even though our Lord despises and rejects such hatred, He is never untouched by the pain and the suffering. His back may be turned to evil, but his face is filled with tears of compassion and love. He promises to walk through the darkest of times hand-in-hand with any one of us who calls on Him and allows Him to bring us His peace and His comfort.

     We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death just a few months ago at Easter. But a key part of the Easter story is remembering the beatings, whippings, and gruesome death He endured. We remember his broken body and His shed blood as He turned His back to a cross and allowed Himself to be nailed to it in order to once and for all time purchase our eternal freedom. Since God cannot allow sin into His presence, and every one of us has sinned, we were all doomed for an eternity separated from God… an eternal death. But Jesus Christ, the only one who ever walked through life without ever sinning, took our place… facing death and hell so that we could be freed from that judgment of eternal death. Like when someone chooses to pay off a debt for you that you knew you’d never be able to pay.

     In this time of uncertainty, when the terror and fear and sin is so clearly visible, it is time for us to return to the weeping Jesus, and remember His death until He comes again.

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This was my pastor’s newsletter in our church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Circuit Rider, (August/September 2016), First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA. (Based on an original devotional I wrote in 2002).

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Do Not Quarrel Along The Way

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they are all reconciled with one another, he sends them with his blessing to go home and get their families, and their father Jacob. But in Genesis 45:24 we read:

“Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’”

My district superintendent used this passage about Joseph (Genesis 39-45) as the core of a pastor’s retreat I attended earlier this month. And I kid you not, I did not know that verse was in there! (I toyed with maybe God had just recently done an update, but I probably just missed it).

Even after all the reconciliation and reunion, the forgiveness and the blessings, and the hope of the future, Joseph still knew what his brothers were like and what they’d probably do once they headed home. And he reminded them not to get into the blaming and “I told you so” kinds of quarrelling. Am I reading more into it than is there? I don’t think so, because clear back in Genesis 42:22, Reuben, the oldest brother, had already headed down that path. He just didn’t know that Joseph could understand what he said. (“Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen…’”)

There are some people who think we Christians are supposed to be perfect all the time or else we’re not really Christians. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven of our past, but not necessarily immune from ever sinning again. Even after Jesus is Lord in our life and we claim to be his followers, we still mess up sometimes. That’s why Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery (after her accusers had all made themselves scarce) are so hopeful to me: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11b)

Joseph knew his brothers would be tempted to fall back into the quarrelling. Jesus knows that we are likely to be tempted to fall back into our old ways. And Joseph, and Jesus, give that encouraging reminder that we don’t have to fall back into the old ways.

The thing is, the brothers had to rely on each other, while Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re tempted. We can call on him for help!

In fact, that’s where another of my favorite passages comes in:

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.” (First Corinthians 10:13)

After the forgiveness and reconciliation, with God, with our brothers and sisters, with family members, or whomever, there will still be an easy way to slide back into the old ways… the ways that broke relationship to start with. Sometimes, another person will be the one that re-breaks the relationship… but it doesn’t have to be us!

And when it comes to our spiritual relationship with our God, he ALWAYS makes sure that there is some way out of the temptation or the testing. IF we choose to take it!

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Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I was struck by Genesis 45 at a pastor’s retreat earlier this month, when I read how his brothers reacted when Joseph revealed who he really was.

“But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”

They have been living with their guilt and remorse for years and years. And they’ve changed their ways because of it. I know that because of their differing behaviors towards Benjamin and their father… even in the face of a seemingly all-powerful Egyptian lord. They are no longer looking for the easiest way out of a problem, rather they are willing to plead and Judah even offers up himself as a slave to try to protect the one who cannot protect himself.

But now, their past sin, hidden so long, has come back to them. And they are afraid. Not only might Joseph still be angry, he’s in a position to have each of them sold as a slave or even killed. And they know they’ve earned those penalties if he decides to carry them out.

And, like Jesus so many centuries later, Joseph doesn’t make them wallow in their guilt and sin. He has already seen and heard their hearts as he tested them in chapters 42, 43, and 44. He steps in and releases them from their past, their sin, their guilt, their shame, and their fear… before they can even figure out how to respond. And Joseph welcomes them into his presence and delivers them from their daily fight for survival in a famine while he’s at it.

Jesus, once he’s seen our repentant hearts, releases us from our past, our sin, our guilt, our shame, and our fear, and welcomes us into his presence as one of his. We are under his protection and have access to all he has.

Where do we see ourselves in this account from Genesis? One of the brothers who hurt someone? Have we really had enough of the guilt, shame, and its consequences that we have “changed our ways” with a repentant heart?

Perhaps we see ourselves like Joseph where we have been the one on the receiving end of the hurt? As Christians we often pray the Lord’s prayer and point blank ask God to only forgive us in the same way we have forgiven those who have hurt us. (“…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”) How have we forgiven the ones who did us wrong?

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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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Can Divorce Be Forgiven???

My cousin Gordon wrote a note on facebook about how difficult it is for some Christians to accept someone who has been divorced… in fact, SOME will deliberately SHUN even a family member who has divorced. He challenged his readers to rethink that practice and make a change.

Now, I DO agree that Scripture is clear that God HATES divorce… If the concern is over the SIN of divorce, OK… but Scripture also says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and WILL FORGIVE our sins and Scripture is also clear that Jesus said there was ONLY ONE unforgiveable sin… And he did NOT spell it D-I-V-O-R-C-E. So to justify the “shunning” some religious traditions prescribe and practice because of the ‘sin’ of divorce, requires that you believe that Jesus was wrong. Is that such a good idea?…

OR… Perhaps the shunning of a divorcee is simply a statement that we believe God is powerless to forgive and Christ’s sacrifice was not really enough. After all, who does He think He is… God?
Seems theologically dangerous to me. Wasn’t Lucifer condemned to Hell for trying to overrule God?? Who are we to call something ‘unpardonable’ when God gave His Son, and Christ shed His blood, to forgive ANYONE who repents?

AND if God HAS TO condemn a divorcee because divorce is sin, then God must HAVE TO condemn the gossip to Hell along with the glutton and the liar and those who judge others.
I choose to believe the Bible and the God it reveals to us… The God who despises and hates ALL sin, including divorce, and yet is ALWAYS faithful and just to forgive us when we confess our sins.

One more thought: Jesus taught us to pray: “forgive us our sins AS WE FORGIVE those who sin against us.” I wonder if He really meant it?

He also said: “Let him without sin, cast the first stone.”

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End of the Beginning…

On Thursday evening, June 7th, my daughter Michele graduated from the DuBois Area High School.

There were 300 or so in her graduating class, so of course she didn’t know all her classmates, but in the four years she attended DuBois (since our arrival in DuBois in 2003) she had worked hard to establish some friendships and to meet the requirements to succeed in school.

Michele has a mild learning disability, inherited from both of her biological parents. She’s a smart girl, it’s just that she simply has to really want it in order to succeed. She has to work harder than the so-called ‘normal’ kids in order to learn what comes so easy to others.

Three Peas in a Pod: RoseAnn, Lyndsay, & Michele
The thing is… my Michele, despite her disability, did it! She knew what she wanted (a high school diploma) and she kept working and trying and even asking for help when she needed it from Mom, Dad, friends, or teachers. I can’t tell you how much pride I felt when they called her name and awarded her that diploma. Like so many others, I was one of those camera happy daddies running around taking pictures… from various spots in the gym… because I was so proud of her! (I won’t post ALL of them, but if anyone wants to see them all I’d be happy to show you!!!!!)

At one point we got into a conversation about why do they call graduation “commencement?” After all, commencement means to start something, not end something, right?

And of course, we talked about her years in elementary school, middle school, and high school were just the beginning of her learning years… not the end of her learning. Graduation night was simply the beginning (or commencing) of her role as an adult learner responsible for her own lessons and her own mistakes.

Already, some opportunities in life are closed to her. She didn’t join gymnastics while in school (at any age), so being an Olympic gymnist is out. It’s just not going to happen. She didn’t go out for the football team, so the NFL is out of the question. It’s too late to change those choices… those outcomes have already been determined for the rest of her life because of the choices she did, and did not, make while a student in school.

I share all of this, not just to brag about my fantastic kid (although I’m enjoying that part!), but because it’s made me think some.

As pastors, we often get to preside over funerals, which could be compared to a ‘commencement’ of a new chapter in a person’s eternal life. Just like graduation is more than an ending, but rather a much bigger beginning, so also is death (and the ceremony that follows) more of a new beginning than just an ending of a life.

And in the same way that a person’s choices in high school affect the outcomes and opportunities available to them after graduation… so also a person’s choices in this life affect the outcomes and opportunities available to them after death. We are all heading for Hell unless we choose to make a change in direction while here in this life. IF while we are here, we yield control of our lives to Jesus Christ, and allow Him to direct us and lead us, then, according to the Bible, our faith in Christ will be the ‘ticket’ into Heaven.

We don’t know a lot of the details about Heaven or Hell. Even the Bible doesn’t tell us much. The biggies are that Hell is being separated and alone… from everyone else and separated and alone from God. Eternity in isolation… just remembering our regrets and our ‘could have’ moments. And the Bible says that it’s more painful and tormenting than being burned non-stop in sulfur.

The Bible also tells us about Heaven a little bit. A place where we are with God and embraced by the hosts of heaven and all those who have died before us who had chosen Jesus as the one they would follow, rather than just do things their own way while living this life. Heaven is described as joy and peace and a sense of God’s Presence… and never being alone again.

We read that Heaven was God’s plan for everyone… and Hell was His invention to keep the devil and those who rebelled against God away from Him… Not just as a punishment, but because they each had personally chosen to break fellowship with God and go their own way… so there was no place in Heaven where they could be away from Him…

If I read the Bible right, then it teaches that God never meant for anyone to go to Hell… but for those who rebel against God and choose to do things their own way, He allows us the free-will to walk away from Him… even though that means they walk away from Heaven as well.

The problem is, we ALL have rebelled against God. We ALL have walked away and done our own thing. There is no room in Heaven for ANY of us… without some help.

Just like my daughter had a disability that meant that she needed to ask for help in order to be successful in school, so also each of us needs to ask for help in order to change the direction of our eternal life… we need help if we’re going to change and stop being rebels against God.

Knowing that, Jesus made all the arrangements we would need… We simply ask Him for help! He has taken care of everything… all we have to do is believe in Him and ask Him to help us… to ‘save’ us.

In school, Michele learned that she couldn’t do it on her own and she asked for help… and won the prize of a high school diploma. In life, I hope that each one reading these words realizes they too need help if they are going to change from being rebels against God to being friends of God… and all we need to do is ask Jesus for help… and we change the outcome of our life after death in that moment.

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My Confession

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.

–Dayton Mix, 2007, AND ALSO The Apostle Paul, Romans 7:19-25a from The Message

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You’re The One!

I’ll be on vacation next Sunday and had planned on preaching this sermon. Because of all the excitement this past week, I opted to preach this a week early… with an invitation to join us for the very first Ash Wednesday service.
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“You’re The One”
Scripture Text: II Samuel 12:1-13a

This is one of my most favorite passages of Scripture in the whole Bible.

I like it because it shows how concerned God is about sin, even when we are not… and especially when we have tried to hide our sins. And I especially like this passage because it doesn’t stop there but it gives us an example of how a sinner can get right with God. And the Bible even uses one of my favorite Bible characters… King David.

As the story unfolds throughout Second Samuel, we find Israel’s mighty warrior king, King David, watching in Second Samuel 11:1 as the army rides away into battle. And later on, “one evening” we are told, he gets up from his bed and he’s walking around up on the flat roof of his house. And we are told in chapter eleven, verses two and three, that “From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.”

We find out that her name is Bathsheba, and her husband was named Uriah, who was a Hittite foreigner living in Israel.

For those who may not be familiar with the story, I will give a quick Reader’s Digest style version for you: David looks at her, then David lusts in his heart for her, then David sleeps with her.

She gets pregnant, and David tries to hide what is still a secret, but will soon be known to all… especially her husband Uriah.

So he hatches a plan… He’ll try to ensure the baby is considered to be Uriah’s baby… except that Uriah is one of David’s valiant soldiers… out fighting David’s battles.

So David sends for Uriah trying to get Uriah to go home to his wife……… so that Uriah, and every one else, will think the future baby was conceived when Uriah was home.

So Uriah is summoned back to the capital to meet with the king. They talk, David probes about the battle, as if Uriah were simply home as a randomly picked messenger. And after they talk, David dismisses Uriah to go home for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

But of course, Uriah is feeling so guilty that his friends and neighbors are out there in the midst of the battle, fighting and dying while he’s at home, that he goes into a time of spiritual fasting and mourning… he sleeps in the street outside the king’s house and doesn’t go home to see his wife.

The next night, David gets him drunk, hoping to trick Uriah to go home and be with his wife, but Uriah’s loyalty, and honesty, as one of David’s valiant & faithful fighting men is too strong. Even drunk, this warrior will be true to his word, to his cause. He sleeps at the entrance to the palace… not daring to endulge his personal needs or desires while his fellow soldiers are still suffering and fighting in the battle.

So David decides that the only way to cover this up is to make sure that Uriah dies in battle… which he orders his commander in the field, Joab, to ensure. He writes down his orders and seals them and sends them, get this, with Uriah, back to the front lines.

Joab then leads the Israelite troops close to the gates of the city of Rabbah, with Uriah in the front line, and when they get close enough the defenders of Rabbah start shooting arrows and Uriah is killed… and Scripture tells us that other soldiers were killed as well.

After the appropriate mourning period for a wife to mourn her dead husband, David, the kind and compassionate king, the caring and concerned neighbor, consoles the forlorn widow and takes her in as one of his own. And makes her his wife. The baby is born. Noone knows about his sin. The secret is safe.

And that brings us to the passage of Scripture for today: Let’s pick up the story in verse 26 of Second Samuel chapter 11…

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II Samuel 11:26-12:13
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.
12:1 The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ “
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

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You see, sin never gets hidden from God, does it?

It’s sort of like squeezing a toothpaste tube until it’s empty. It’s easy to get the toothpaste out of the tube and it’s easy to keep squirting the toothpaste out of the tube… But you can’t undo the actions so easily. The toothpaste doesn’t ever go back into the tube.

It’s the same way with sin. It’s easy to sin, but then in an effort to cover that sin, you have to lie, and then sin some more , and then more and more and more. And even then sin doesn’t really get covered up and never really goes away.

I like that spot where the chapter changes… did you catch it in the tail end of verse 27 in chapter eleven and the beginning of verse one in chapter twelve…?
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11:27 “and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. 12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan to David.”
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God always sees our sin. Even when we try to cover it up. And it ALWAYS displeases Him. But Scripture doesn’t just stop with a sinner and an angry God… God always tries to bring the sinner back.

With David, it takes the prophet Nathan and a parable. Nathan is the one God uses to expose David’s sin…

And we are read in verse 13 the following sentence:
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12:13 “Then David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD.”
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“I HAVE SINNED…” he cries out… and not just sinned against Bathsheba, or Uriah, or the other Israelite soldiers, but he admits that He has sinned against GOD!

I want to suggest that we can learn something here this morning from David’s sin, as well as his repentance.

First of all, I want to point out some less obvious sins that David committed, because he isn’t just repenting from having sex with a woman he’s not married to. His sin goes deeper than that… In the heart.

David’s sin was more than adultery, more than murder…
Look at chapter eleven, verse one with me:
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“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.”
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and then verse two tells us:

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“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…”
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That line in there that tells us what time of year it was is a real clue to David’s sins within his heart… “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” and the problem… David’s first mistake in this whole story: “But David remained in Jerusalem.”

If the kings went out to war, then why was the king at home looking at something he shouldn’t have been seeing to start with? David was not where he was supposed to be…

He set himself up to be tempted by something he should never have even been there to see.

How many of us, find ourselves in that same situation?

We find ourselves faced with temptations that seem greater than we can handle and we fall? And later, with 20/20 hindsight we realize that if we only had done this or done that then we never would have fallen… because we never would have even been tempted.

David’s second heart mistake was of course the sexual sin with Bathsheba but he sins again when he realizes that there will be some long term consequences of that sin… namely a child.

He sins by not turning to God right then and there and decides to hide his sin. Sort of like Adam and Eve in the garden trying to hide their nakedness from God. David’s attempts at hiding sin fails just as much as Adam and Eve’s did.

You know, God gave David time to repent and acknowledge his sin and change his ways … and his heart. God gave David time to repent on his own without anyone else having to know. But David clung to his sin and stuck with his attempts at hiding sin. And God finally sent Nathan, the prophet, to expose David’s heart sins.

God does the same thing with us… He gives us time to repent on our own. That’s what he gives us a conscience for. To make us recognize guilt in order that we may have a chance to repent and get right with our God and be guilt free.

Only when that doesn’t work, and we stubbornly refuse to repent and turn to God does he have to expose our sin.

And even then, like David, he tries to expose them to us… not everyone else. In fact, we are never told that God exposed David’s many sins to anyone else. Because David turned to God and God didn’t have to use that tool in order to try and get David to repent and get right with him.

David didn’t get it when Bathsheba got pregnant, nor when his attempts to make Uriah look like the father failed. It wasn’t until Nathan came along that David repented.

Be warned!

If you are trying to hide sin, God will try to get you to repent of your sin. He’ll give you time. He’ll give you things to do that will keep you away from temptation to start with. If necessary he’ll send other people to help you see. And, ultimately, if necessary, he will expose your sins, and your hardness of heart for all the world to see, all to try to get you to repent.

And I like the way this story, more than most others, so clearly show us how to repent and get right with God…even after we’ve sinned. Even the BAD sins.

Just do like David did…

Admit you have sinned like David did in II Samuel 12:13.

And pray to God for forgiveness… like David did in that Psalm we read together this morning, the very Psalm David wrote after his sin was exposed by Nathan.

Pray for mercy.

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Psalm 51:1-2

“Have mercy on me, O God, … blot out my transgressions…Wash me…. and cleanse me from my sin!”
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And David’s heart cry, upon receiving that forgiveness is found in verses 10 through 12:

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Psalm 51:10-12

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
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David cries out to God for pardon, for forgiveness… and then, knowing his own heart, and the way it is so easy for his heart to sin… David cries out to God for a new, pure and clean and changed heart.

Respond to God when he tries to lead you to repentance… He tries to expose your sins to you personally with his Holy Spirit and your conscience, but he’s is willing to use other people to reveal your sinfulness to you if needed…. or if that doesn’t work, to make you face your sin by exposing your sin publicly.

And that repentance He desires, is that same kind of repentance that David showed us: admit that you are a sinner, ask God for forgiveness, ask him to help change you, and then, Go and sin no more.

Let’s take a moment and pray, shall we…?

Ask God to forgive you of any sin you’ve been hiding.

Maybe you don’t remember any sin… GOOD! Ask God to reveal any unconfessed sin to you… to remind you of those things that you might have hidden so well that you don’t remember them anymore… but yet, they still stand between you and God’s best plan for you… and you can’t go on with God until you’re right with God… Ask him to expose your sin so that you can repent.

If neither of those situations are you, then you pray for your spouse, your family, your friends… you can even pray for your preacher… who is just as susceptible to sin as David was.

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