The Power of Emptiness 

Peninsula Community Church 

April 21, 2019 

Matthew 28:1-8 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

When I was a child I loved when my mom would buy sugary cereals. I especially loved those cereals that would have a surprise in side. Perhaps I am showing my age, but we would often buy cereal not so much for the cereal itself but for the prize. I could not wait to get home to open the box so I could dig to the bottom of the box to find the prize. There were, however, occasions where after digging deep into the box, I would come up empty. Here I am a six or seven year old kid coming up empty from my search. I would be so disappointed and upset because of that. I had the anticipation of getting something but I came up empty.

A difficulty in this fast paced world we live is that too often we jump at the chance to fill ourselves with more without pausing to consider too deeply what more is. We busy our ourselves with activity and events. We fill ourselves with things, but we do not have time to give thanks for what we have already been given. We live in a world filled with empty calories, empty entertainment, empty hearts, empty seats at dinner time, and even empty worship.

Emptiness is a reality that most of us will experience at some time. It may have been an empty cereal box, or it could be an empty gas tank, an empty wallet, or it could be an empty heart. Whether it is a broken heart, a broken dream, or something that has not gone right, we have all experienced let downs and emptiness. Many of us have found our hearts emptied of laughter and joy. In fact, we can begin to wonder if emptiness is all there is. 

Too often, the response we have to emptiness is to try and cover up our emptiness by looking for substitutes or distractions to fill the emptiness. I would suggest however that when you reach a place of emptiness, where the disappointments run deep, you are in the perfect position for a miracle. You are in just the right place for God to do something special in life. Why? It is because God can make His good come from bad situations (Romans 8:28). God has the unique ability to take our messes, disappointments, and mistakes and mold them into something useful and good. That is who He is and that is what He does. We see that in the life of Joesph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. We see it the life of Job who lost everything, but God restored what he lost and more. 

Returning to our story, can you imagine the disappointment the women who were headed to see Jesus experienced when they found an empty tomb? They had gone there to embalm and cover Jesus’ body with perfume and oil so they could preserve His body and keep it from smelling as it decayed. They were headed to the tomb with great expectation and excitement only to find the tomb was empty. He was not there! He was gone! 


A joyous moment has now turned to emptiness in their heart. What was once a sense of mission and purpose was quickly changed to confusion and emptiness! How many times have you moved toward something with great anticipation only to come up empty and your needs unmet? In that moment, we often feel confused and disoriented but, God is good at turning our messes and our emptiness into something more than we can every imagine.

Tony Evans tells the story of Charlie Goodyear who started the Goodyear tire company. While working in his lab, Mr. Goodyear inadvertently spilled some rubber into a fire. When the rubber hit the fire it made a big colossal mess, but he noticed that because of the fire it became incredibly strong and durable. This mistake was transformed into the Goodyear tire. When rubber combined with the heat it got messy, but it also produced a strong, tough product we now depend on to carry us around. We might be in a mess and the fire might be turned up but that heat and the mess of our life can be used to make us stronger and tougher. 

Listen to the last words of this passage. After going to the tomb and finding it empty they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Do you hear the conflict that arose in them? They were filled simultaneously with fear and with great joy. That is exactly what the power of emptiness can do to us. We want to be filled with joy but the emptiness of our heart causes us to fear. Our emptiness causes us confusion and pain.

With that in mind let me share a couple of things with you this morning about the emptiness at the end of Jesus’ life. There are two specific instances of emptiness that changed the world. First, we find that the cross is empty. It once held the body of Jesus suspended between two thieves and suspended between mankind and God, but now on Easter Sunday the cross is empty. His body is no longer there. But, in the emptiness of the cross comes powerful hope and joy. In the emptiness of the cross, we find forgiveness and wholeness. In the emptiness of the cross, we find greater fulfillment than at any other place in our life. 

We can look at the cross as being empty or we can see beyond the cross to the power of His death upon that cross. The empty cross becomes a source of His power to assist us in securing healing, forgiveness, and His righteousness. The empty cross made a way for every sin ever committed to be forgiven once and for all. What could only be done through the mediacy of a high priest is now accomplished through direct access to God, the Father. The empty cross might be empty, but the emptiness of the cross is filled with the power of God. 

Secondly, we have an empty tomb. The empty tomb is filled with hope, love, a promise given, and a promise fulfilled. The empty tomb confirms to us that there is hope beyond the messes of our life. The empty tomb tells us that the Savior lives. The empty tomb tells us that we are not abandoned and that we are not alone. The empty tomb may not hold the body of Christ but it holds such great promise for us. In the empty tomb, we have the promise of a future. We are promised a hope for tomorrow. The song “Because He Lives” says it best. “Because He lives we can face tomorrow.” Because He lives we can face the messes of our life. Because He lives, the emptiness of our hearts is filled with hope and promise. 

The emptiness you feel is not the end, it is only the beginning. In fact, it represents a new beginning for you. The emptiness of the cross and the tomb in fact gives us hope that we will be filled and restored. The scars you bear and the holes in your heart cannot to be compared to what Jesus went through, and yet we cannot minimize the pain you feel, the scars you bear, or your heart that has been torn in desperation and failure. Although we feel the pain of emptiness, these things did not kill you. If the God who created us has the power to resurrect the Savior, He also has the power to resurrect you. He has the ability to lift you higher than you ever imagined. 

We have a decision to make in regard to our wounds. You can choose to hide your wounds from the world. We can pretend the pain, the loss, or death never happened. You can choose to reopen the wounds with cheap relationships and bitterness by looking back at what could have been instead what is ahead of us into the future. You can also choose a different path. It is a path of hope and of promise. It is a promise of resurrection life. That which was dead is alive again.

We find that the Jesus of the cross and the tomb does not immediately head to Heaven but He visits with the disciples and those around the city of Jerusalem. The Jesus of the empty cross. The Jesus of the empty tomb returns to fill the disciples with hope and joy. He returns to Peter to give Him a message of love, and commission Him to be the leader of this disoriented and misdirected band of disciples. I love this encounter because it shows us that emptiness may come but that emptiness is followed by rejoicing. First comes absence, then comes glory. The Easter story begins with emptiness, but ends with rejoicing and promise. 

Imagine the emptiness of the disciples who had failed their master big time. Imagine the feeling of regret and shame and pain from the days before and during the crucifixion. The savior, however, had a different plan. He met them in their pain. He met them right where they were, so that He could bring them to a sense of being filled. In the end, we must pass through the empty cross and through the empty tomb to see the resurrected Lord high and lifted up. That is what we celebrate here today. We accept the cross and all that it has to offer. We accept the empty tomb with its power to overcome the power of sin and death itself. 

I love this passage in Romans 8:11 and I close with this, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Did you get that? The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you as a believer in Christ. No matter who you are, He is able to give life to your emptiness. He is able to fill you up. If you are not a believer, He invites you accept His empty tomb and His empty cross by inviting Him into your heart. Your emptiness will be filled and He will give you a new life filled His promise and His hope. 

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Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Who is the Greatest?

Peninsula Community Church 

April 14, 2019 

Luke 22:24-27 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 

Our theme today is who is the greatest? That was the debate of the day for the disciples at the Last Supper and it is a debate that continues today for many. The reason debating and arguing over who is greatest is a problem is because most people who argue over this question are usually self-serving and we have seen what self-serving leaders have done to our nation and the society in which we live. They do what is best for themselves in the moment and not what is best for those they serve. They serve on a whim rather than the truth that sets us free. 

I love it when you get a couple of guys together. If they love sports it will not take them long before they are debating about their team or a particular member of a team. Many times a discussion will ensue on who they think is the greatest or the best. I thought of some amazing athletes and people who have been considered great. I thought of Johnny Unitas, Muhammad Ali, Jim Thorpe, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, Mary Lou Retton, Dale Earnhardt, and many others who have been considered great in their field. I thought of Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, John Wesley, and other great men of God. I thought of Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Ingrid Bergman, Doris Day and other giants in the movies. The fact is, we could spend the rest of the day just listing those considered to be great men and women. To note, greatness is not the issue as much it is the issue of arguing over one’s greatness. 

It probably does not surprise us that the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest. In this passage, we find a contrast between the disciples and Jesus’ response to this question. One group argued over greatness while the other demonstrated true servanthood. The text tells us that the disciples were having a discussion or as the Bible says a “dispute.” The word here for “dispute” means “contention” and comes from the root word that means “fond of strife.” This was nothing new for the disciples. They seemed to be bickering all of the time about something. They were fighting and arguing like little kids. 

The point however is that in this case they are arguing over who is the greatest. This was happening while Christ is bringing His last days into focus. He was wanting them know what was to come. He was initiating an illustrative process that would keep the vision and heart of Christ alive through the Lord’s Table and communion. Instead of celebrating and acknowledging this, the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest. The testosterone was flowing in the room. Jesus is at the end of His life and they are arguing over greatness. Because they were arguing they were missing one of the greatest moments in history.

You would think, of all the people in the world, the disciples would have gotten it. You would think they would have understood His mission and His purpose. They should have gotten it, but they missed it. He was sharing His heart and yet they missed it. They were focused on the wrong thing. They were self-seeking and self-motivated rather than being servants who would listen to God’s heart. 

You see greatness in itself is not a bad thing. We are to excel in everything we do. We are not to settle for mediocrity. I love the commercial for AT&T that is out now. One of their commercials shows a wife who asks the nurse if Dr. Francis is a good doctor. The nurse replies, “He is okey.” Just as the nurse gives her response the doctor comes in and proclaims “guess who just got reinstated, well not officially.” The tag line is “just okey is not okey.”

The fact is we need to do our best to glorify and honor God, but we do not need to self-promote ourselves. I love the Scripture’s response to this idea. Listen to a couple of passages. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips (Proverbs 27:2). The problem of self-promotion is that we often exaggerate who we are to make ourselves look better. Here is another passage that drives this home. Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Did you catch that? Rather than boast in ourselves and what we can accomplish through our wisdom, our might, or our riches, let us boast in the fact that we know God and He knows us. Let us boast that we know the living God who is greater than anything we can do. We are to boast in the fact that it is the Lord that practices steadfast love. Let us boast that He is just, and righteousness in the earth. We are not to boast in ourselves but in God. 

As we return to our story, we find that Jesus makes some powerful statements. The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 

Jesus is saying if you want to be the greatest, if you want to be a leader, then you must serve. He is saying that the model of the worldview around them is to exercise lordship and rulership which in essence is control. They lord over others and think they deserve something from those they rule. But I love this statement from Jesus. He says, “But not so with you.” It might be that way with them, but it is not so with you. They do that, but not you. You have a different mind set. You have a different worldview. You have a different mentality and outlook on life. You look at people not as your servants and what you can get from them, but rather how you can give and serve them. You see true leadership is a process of influence and less about forced authority. We are all influencers and our best influence in serving others to guide them to truth and reality. 

Jesus then explains the course of action that is to be taken. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. In other words, do not argue about your position or authority, but rather become like the youngest among you. He who is a leader let him serve. In other words do not sit around and talk about it, just do it. That is the model of Jesus. He came not to condemn but to choose all mankind in salvation. Does God punish sin? Absolutely, but God’s ultimate desire and design for mankind is that they would come to a saving knowledge of Christ, the greatest servant of all times. 

It is then that Jesus does something pretty amazing. We do not find it this passage. We have to turn to John 13:3-20 to see what Jesus does. He does not just talk it, He illustrates the concept of humility and surrender. Jesus does not just make some off-the-wall statement, but He demonstrates that attitude and mindset in a very real and practical way. 

What does Jesus do? He washes their feet; their dirty, filthy feet. John says that Jesus took off His outer garment, took a towel, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet. Do you see it? Jesus the King of Kings, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Savior of the world,, literally the greatest of all men, bows low and takes a towel. He does the most humiliating thing that could be done in that culture. He washed the disciples feet. Why did He do it? He did it to illustrate an incredible lesson about greatness. To be the greatest you become the servant. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 13:16-17. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus is saying you are not like the others because to wash someone’s feet is beneath the prideful and arrogance of the Gentile leaders and leaders within the Jewish world. Washing someone’s feet is a humbling act. We are servants first and foremost. In serving He exalts us. Jesus made this statement in this regard The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12). We are exalted best when we bow low and serve others. 

As I share this I can hear the arguments already. This all sounds good but I do not want to become someone’s door mat. Listen that was never God’s intent. We are not to be someone’s door mat, but we are to humble ourselves and be servants to all men. I challenge you to become a secret servant of God. Make it a habit to serve God by serving others, and when possible, do it in a way that does not draw attention to yourself. Wash someone’s feet. It might be leaving that last parking space to another driver you know is right behind you. It could be learning a new person’s name and making them feel valued. It might be treating someone better than they deserve, instead of repaying rudeness with rudeness. As you serve others without drawing attention to yourself, you serve God. And believe me, God takes note!

In a world where people feel used and manipulated, a servant Christian is often an anomaly. Look at Jesus’ day. The Pharisees put so many laws on the people it caused more bondage than freedom. People want to know we care and in caring we have a door opened to share the gospel. People need servants who will be willing to care for them and offer them a better way. People need servants who will sacrifice and go out of their way to share Christ. We share Christ by presenting the truth and not arguing from a place of superiority and pride. In the end, it is all about the heart. Do we have a heart to serve or is our heart hardened by a desire to be the greatest? 

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The Antidote to Fear – Perfect Love

Peninsula Community Church 

April 7, 2019 

1 John 4:15-18 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Last week we looked at trust being an antidote for fear and this week we will look at the power of love to cast out all fear. One of the great authors of the New Testament is John. He had an understanding of love that surpassed most of the other disciples of his day. Perhaps that is why He was known as the beloved disciple. As you read his words, you see that he comprehended the meaning and power of love. Not a romantic love but a love that is stronger than romance. This was the love of a Father who would send His only son to take on mankind’s sin. John knew God’s love and he had a grasp of what that meant for him and for us.

As you read through Scripture we find that it was John that penned some of the most quotable and well known verses in the Bible. Listen to a couple of these passages. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35). See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11). We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). This is just a splattering of the Scriptures that relate to God’s love but it gives us a sense of John’s heart and the power of God’s love that has been freely given to us. 

We also have the passage before us today. In this passage there are a couple of truths to consider. First of all, just as John knew God’s love we also get to know and believe in His love. Listen to these words. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. Did you get that? We have come to know and to believe. While knowing God requires an intellectual understanding of His love it is so much more than that. We do not just know about God, we experience God! How is this possible? It is possible because He gave Himself for us. It is possible because He has forgiven us our sin. It is possible because He not only forgives us, but He also takes the power of sin away. It is possible because His love extends beyond time into all of eternity. This is possible because He came to live in us. We can know and believe His love because it is a gift freely given. 

In this passage John makes an astounding proclamation. He states that God is love. You see, God does not just love, He is love. He is the embodiment of love and in Him is the power of love. Because of this statement we have come to understand that to define love we look to God. In 1 John 4:8-10 we find that anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. How is His love manifested through us? The amazing thing about love is that it was expressed long before we knew we needed it. He became the propitiation for our sins because of His love. He covers our sin but He does not just cover our sin, He hides them. In essence, our past sin disappears. His love is manifested in that He loved us before the foundation of the world. He loved us before we knew Him. He loved us before we loved Him. His love is worked out in us through Him who is love.

That leads us to a second point. We find there is a direct correlation between abiding in Christ and loving well. His love is best experienced as we abide in Him. This idea of abiding is another theme that runs through John’s writings. In verse 12-13 John states No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. In verse 16 John reaffirms this declaration. He states So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 

Our ability to understand His love is directly connected to our abiding in Him and vice versa. We must abide in Him. We must get to know Him. We must study His word. We must pray. We must engage with others who have a passion for God. Together, we learn the love of God. As we abide in Him His love becomes more real and more powerful than you would ever think. Our sustenance, our hope, and our passion is driven by a deepened relationship with Him. In this abiding, we learn to trust and His love is perfected in us.

It is in this regard that we are reminded of John’s words in John 15:1-10 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 

Do you get that? There is a direct correlation between abiding in Christ and understanding His love. We abide in Him and His love is revealed in us and through us. Without abiding in Him, we lose focus and we begin to trust in those things that fail us. One of those issues is fear. Fear is a fruitless emotion as it relates to our growth in Christ. 

The third lesson here is that perfect love casts out fear. The word used here means to jettison. Remember in the old westerns when there was almost always a saloon scene and someone being thrown out of the salon. They would be thrown through the swinging doors or they would crash through the window. They were thrown out or in this case they were cast out of the saloon. God’s perfect love does just that, it jettisons fear. God’s love and fear do not go together. 

The word perfect means to bring into completeness or wholeness. This means that God’s love is perfect and does not need anything added to it. As noted God is love. His love is not contingent upon any outside source to satisfy the quality or power of His love. The love here is Agape love which is dependent on the benefactor. You see Agape love is conditioned on the one giving the love and not the one receiving love. His love has been and always is a free gift. 

Finally, the purpose of all of this is that perfect love counters our fear of judgment. We all deal with questions that cause fear in our heart. I am sure that you know what I mean. We deal with the question “Am I good enough?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Will God forgive me?” “Will I escape the final judgement?” “Have I been forgiven?” Paul in Romans 8:15 wrote For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Paul also reminds Timothy that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7).

If there is a correlation between God’s perfect love and fear, when fear arises we can turn to Romans 8:31-39 where we have an incredible promise of hope. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If perfect love casts out all fear and there is nothing that can take God’s love away from us, we do not have to walk in fear. If there is nothing that can separate us from His love, what is it that we have to fear? We are more than conquerors in Christ. We can deal with our fear and it is God’s perfect love that drives that fear away. Cast it off, reject it, jettison it and never return to that fear again. 

Let us pray!

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The Antidote for Fear – Trust

Peninsula Community Church 

March 31, 2019 

Philippians 4:4-6 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

I wanted to take some time this morning to look at the power of fear. I am sure that we have all experienced overwhelming fear and anxiety at some point in our life. We may have experienced it for different reasons and in different ways, but we have all experienced it at some point. As a child I walked in fear because my step father would come home in a drunken stupor. He was angry at the world and he tended to take that anger out on myself and my mother. I remember that so many times I would cower in my room hoping that he would just leave me alone. Because of my situation at home, I would make up stories about my home life at school and walked in fear that someone would find out the truth. So as a child, I had fear at home and I had a fear that I would be found out and proven not to be the person I said I was. 

In my adult years, there are still times where I am driven by fear and anxiety. Paying bills, medical reports, issues that arise in my daily life, and looking into the future can drive me to fear rather than faith. In fact, as I have grown in the Lord most often my fear is a direct result of not trusting God and of not fully understanding His love for me. Conversely, my fear is diminished when I see God for who He is and I trust Him without wavering. 

In Scripture one of the most popular phrases and word choices is the phrase “Do not fear.” It does not appear 365 times as some have suggested, but it is a critically important phrase that needs our attention. The reasoning this is critical is that Jesus knew that when we walk in fear, we allow circumstances, events, and/or thoughts to control us. That was never the plan of God. He wanted to help us overcome fear and live a fearless life in Him. Jesus did not want us to be controlled or manipulated by fear, because He recognized that fear holds us back. It will get the best of us. Fear paralyzes us. Fear feeds our doubt. Fear kills the plans of God within us. You see what we fear will control us. It will bind us and it will cause us to do things that we never intended to do. To be honest, sometimes these fears are very real and based in the problems around us. Sometimes our fears are perceived and not based in reality. We are overcome with fear without any reason or basis for that fear.

Now while fear is a powerful force to be reckoned with, we need to consider the antidote to fear. As a noun an antidote is something that counteracts or neutralizes an unpleasant feeling or situation.  As a verb an antidote means to counteract or cancel. I propose that there are two antidotes to fear. The first is to trust God. When we trust God fear is counteracted and fear is cancelled. The second antidote is we must walk in His love. We do not deserve His love nor do we work for it. It is a precious gift given to us to cancel and counteract the fear that is in us. For today we will focus primarily on trust.

I love the stories of the disciples in the New Testament. Their stories show us their failures and shortcomings. They also show us how Christ accepted the disciples and loved them in spite of what they had done. When it comes to fear, we have one of those stories in Matthew 8:23-27 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Notice something in this story. Jesus was with them and yet they still faced anxiety and fear. They were with Jesus. He was in the boat with them. He was right there, and yet they succumbed to the fear of the storm. The problem was that they were more focused on the storm than they were on Jesus. They allowed the storm to control their emotions rather than the One who was in their presence.

Here is the reality for us. When we focus on the storm and the issues in our life more than we do Jesus, we will succumb to fear and anxiety. Notice Jesus’ response when they woke Him up. “Why are you afraid?” In other words, do you not trust me? Do you not know that we are headed to the other side and we will make it. When Jesus is with us and we succumb to fear most often we have failed to trust God to work everything out for His will and purpose in our life. A lack of trust brings fear and anxiety to the forefront of our life. Being in His presence was not enough, they had to acknowledge that Jesus was their protector. They had to trust Him. 

I love the words of Jeremiah 17:5-9. Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

How powerful is that? Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength. I would suggest that when we put more faith in anything rather than God fear and anxiety is created. I would also suggest that whatever we fear, we give power to it to control us and manipulate us. Jeremiah goes on to tell us that the man who trusts the Lord will be like a tree planted by the water. Notice the wording here, the one who trusts in the Lord is not immune from problems, but when the heat comes and there is a drought, they will not fear. 

In other words, when one trusts God, they do not have to fear when problems come. God will make a way. He will protect and guard them. Notice too that the one who trusts in the Lord will not be anxious in the year of drought. When we feel we lack the daily things we need: money, health, less conflict, less car problems, and so on, we do not have to be anxious. God has it and God is in control. 

Now back to our story. Jesus was right there with them and yet they were filled with fear and anxiety. They trusted the storm more than they trusted Jesus. They allowed the storm to dictate how they would respond to the problem. Now before we judge too harshly, we tend to do the same thing. When problems come and trials hit us we tend to allow those things to control us. The question for us is do we trust Jesus with everything in our life or do we get anxious when the storms blow in? Do we allow the storms to overtake us to the point that we miss Jesus, when He is right there with us all along? The disciples were right there with Jesus and yet they missed Him. They should have trusted Him, but instead they became fearful. 

But how do we overcome fear? How do we break the power of fear and take the antidote of trust? How do we learn to trust Him more? To overcome fear we must trust His character. We must trust His control. We must trust His care for us. We must realize that God does not fail us. Yes, we will encounter difficulty, but we must remember that God has our best interest in mind. Trusting God is simply believing that He loves you and knowing He is good, He has the power to help you, and He wants to help you.

One way to build trust is to look back to see where God has helped us before. By being reminded of past victories, we are more apt to remember that God is in control and that He is guiding our paths. I love the times in the Old testament where the children of Israel rehearsed and gave testimony to the things that God had done for them. They were reminded of His grace and His mercy. Remembering what He had done increased their faith and encouraged them to continue moving forward. 

To overcome fear we must not trust ourselves. To trust ourselves is a dangerous move because as we found in Jeremiah we will not withstand the drought that will come into our life. In Proverbs 3:5-6 we are reminded what this trust means. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

To overcome fear we must be students of God’s Word. As we read God’s word we are encouraged to trust God. Allow His word to penetrate your heart. Memorize His word so that when you feel fear you can counter that fear through the power of His word. 

To overcome fear we must be people of prayer. As we pray, trust is built as we give God our problems each and every day. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7). Prayer brings us to that place of humility and allows us to cast all of our anxiety. As a camel rolls the burdens off of his back so we too should roll the burdens we have onto Jesus, because He cares for us. 

So we can trust God and that trust will alleviate most of the fear we experience. It does not make it easy but it makes it possible. 

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Reap What You Sow

Peninsula Community Church 

March 24, 2019

Galatians 6:6-10 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

I love this time of the year. It is a time for us to see life again as Spring returns, flowers bloom, and it is a season of new beginnings. In just a few weeks, we will celebrate Easter and the power of the resurrection to fill the emptiness in our lives with His grace, healing, and a future. This is also the season that farmers begin to plant their crops for the year. They will begin by plowing the ground. They will determine what they will plant in which fields. They will select the seeds they will use. They will plant or sow those seeds because that is the only way for them to have a harvest. And then they will wait for the harvest.

I am not a farmer but my guess is that when a farmer chooses his seed, he does not just choose any seed. He chooses that seed that will provide the best reward for their time and energy. The reason this is done is that they what to reap an abundant harvest. It is a funny thing about the sowing and reaping process. We can only reap that which has been sown. If you do not sow, you will not reap. Secondly, what you reap is always greater than what you sow. We sow one seed, but from that one seed comes much fruit. Thirdly, there is life in the seed, but that life cannot be energized and revealed until it is planted in the ground. 

That is why this is such a powerful verse. It is here that we learn about the idea of sowing spiritual seed. From this passage we learn much about how we are to do life. We learn what it means to sow in a way that brings an abundant harvest of righteousness. With that said let me make some observations about this passage. 

First, do not be deceived. What is the deception? The deception is thinking that what you do does not matter. We can be deceived into thinking that our actions and our words do not matter, but they do. We can be lured into thinking that we do not influence others, but we do. We can be deceived into believing that our lives do not make a difference, but they do. We influence others and we make a difference with those around us by our actions, by our words, and by our life. As we discovered last week, the enemy loves to deceive us in order to destroy and minimize our influence for good. The enemy will cause us to believe that what we do does not matter, but I can tell you that God wants to use you for His glory and what you do matters and it matters much. 

Second, to reap you must sow. While it is true that we should not be deceived, we must also understand that we will reap what we sow. In terms of sowing there are a couple of things that we need to consider. We must be aware that the size of the harvest will be determined by how much we sow. We sow a little and we will reap a little. Sow much and we will reap much. Listen to Paul’s words. Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). This works in our friendships. It works in our giving. It works in how we treat others. It works in how we invest our lives into the ministries we have been called to. In other words, do not hold back from sowing good seed. Sow generously and faithfully because you will reap generously.

Third, you choose what you will sow. There is a choice to be made. Will you sow righteousness or unrighteousness? Your choice will determine what you will sow. You will sow righteousness or you will sow unrighteousness. In return you will reap either righteousness or unrighteousness. Listen to Paul’s words. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. If we sow negative seeds, we will reap negative harvest. If we sow good seed, we will reap a good harvest.

Listen to Hosea’s words Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. (Hosea 10:12-13). Solomon also had a word about this process. He states Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail. Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor (Proverbs 22:8-9).

We do not have to look far to see what has been sown in our generation and how those things have impacted our culture. Abortion, euthanasia, gender identity, high divorce rates, gay and lesbian rights, gun rights, voting rights, immigration, mass murders, killings of police officers, and so on all represent the seeds that have been sown into our society. We have sown unrighteousness and we are now reaping the results of the unrighteousness that has been sown. We are dissatisfied with life. We are walking aimlessly looking for answers, but cannot find any because we are looking in all of the wrong places. We are reaping the effects of uninviting God to be at the forefront of our society. We are reaping the effects of marginalizing God in society and the public forum. He has been removed from school, and the ten commandments have been stripped from the halls of our institutions. We are reaping what has been sown. 

But there is hope in that we can sow seeds of righteous. By sowing seeds of righteousness we can reap the benefits of increased righteousness. We can change the cultural around us as we sow righteousness into every situation we encounter. One of the first questions in this regard is “Are you a victim or a victor?” Depending on how you answer this question will determine what you will sow and subsequently what you will reap. When we live with a victim mentality we tend to sow into ourselves and not into the world. We become wrapped up in our problems so that we fail to see the victory that is us. 

When we live as a victim we tend to sow that mentality into others. When we are living as a victim we tend to discourage those around us because we are too focused on our personal victimization. We blame everyone else for our problems and fail to see what we could do to change things. We drag others into our misery in hopes they will feel our pain but there is hope.

That brings us to our next point. Do not be weary in doing good. Have you ever gotten tired of doing the right thing? Have you ever wanted to take revenge? Have you ever wanted to forget trying to do right because it does not seem to be working. Paul challenges us to not grow weary in well doing. Do not get tired of doing what is right.

The farmer must trust the sowing process and so should we. Notice that the farmer does not worry about what will come forth. He knows if he sows well, he will reap well. At the right time the seed will germinate and will produce fruit. We too must trust that if we do the right thing, blessing will come and we will be rewarded with a harvest at the right time. Sow in righteousness and be faithful to that process and in due season you will reap a harvest of righteousness. 

Fourth, sow seeds of goodness to everyone. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Paul here expresses how we should sow good seed. Paul suggests that we should do good to everyone, especially those who are a part of the household of faith. Do not stoop to the level of those around you.

Paul had a great word in this regard. Listen to his words. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (When someone persecutes you sow seeds of blessing). Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

So let me ask you what are you sowing? Are you sowing righteousness or unrighteousness? Have you gotten tired of waiting for the harvest? Do not be weary. Stay strong. Do what is right because it is right. Honor God and sow good seed. Keep sowing! 

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Breaking the Power of Offense

Peninsula Community Church

March 17, 2019

Mathew 5:21-24 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This morning I want to deal with the issue of offense and anger in our life. Over the last few weeks I have been encountering this topic in many different ways. In our men’s study we have been dealing with the Biblical principle that we do not have the right to be angry or least stay angry. I also heard a message from Steve Furtrick from Elevation Church about letting go of our offenses. It seems that wherever I turn, this subject has been popping up. So, it seems to me that God is saying something to us, or maybe He is just communicating with me personally.

I love our passage this morning because Jesus does an incredible thing as He speaks to His disciples. He turns up the heat if you will. He infers here that our hearts are critical to everything we do. It is not just the actions we take, but it is the motivation of our heart that makes the difference. Proverbs 23:7 reminds us that “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” In this passage, Jesus raises the bar on murder when He says that it is not just a matter of the act of murder that makes it murder, but if we hold anger against another person we are guilty of murder. Why did Jesus do this? He knew that if we allow anger and offense to fester it will result in emotional, mental, and verbal murder. 

You see. Jesus understood a powerful principle that effects us as believers in Christ. Jesus communicated through this passage that the horizontal and the vertical relationships in our life must be in sync. The vertical relationship is our relationship with God. It is the specific connection we have with Him. It is how we respond to Him and how we show Him our love. The horizontal relationship is our relationship with those around us. As believers, the way we deal with people must match our love for God. We need to show love, forgiveness, and grace just as Jesus did to us. The problem however is that there is a disconnect between our relationship with God and our relationship with others. We cannot say we love God and hold anger or offense in our heart when God has forgiven us of so much. 

Steve Furtrick has suggested and this is confirmed by Scripture that we need a mirror more than we need a magnifying glass. We need to look within and deal with the condition of our heart before we look outside ourselves to control or judge others. The problem with living with a magnifying glass mentality is that we attempt to deal with everyone else’s problems and do little to fix our own problems. As we talked last week, if we are not careful, we will try to fix the speck in someone’s eye while we are walking around with a huge log in our eye. Too often, we think that everyone else is sick and we are offering others the solutions to problems which are actually within us. Jesus words speak deep into our spirit and tells us to get our act together before we judge others or hold onto an offense. 

Jesus continues this discussion by saying that when we are angry we tend to say things and react to things in unhealthy ways. Jesus speaks of insulting our brother. He stated that in the cultured His day you would be liable to the council. Even more hateful is to call someone “Racca” or fool. I do not know exactly what Racca means but it was the very worse thing you could say to someone. In fact, Jesus says that it was so egregious that the one using the word would be condemned to the fire of hell. That seems drastic but it illustrated how powerful offense and anger was. Jesus is saying that if we do not deal with our anger a living hell will erupt within us. What starts in the heart does not stay in the heart. What starts in the heart often flows from the heart and hurts others. In fact, when we are hurt, angry, or offended we probably have said or at least thought of saying some things that would cause us to be judged if anyone heard us. 

If we do not deal with an offense we will build a fence that will divide us and separate us.

Do not forget that this is the primary tactic of the devil. He is the enemy of righteousness and real relationships. Remember it is John 10:10 that reveals the mission of the devil. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. The enemy’s role has been and continues to be to divide and destroy. If he cannot destroy, he will divide. He often uses the smallest of offenses to divide us and eventually destroy us. 

You know how it works there is a small offense and you feel you handle it quite well or so you think. But not too far down the road there is another small offense that is added to the previous offense. Then there is another small offense that is added to the previous offense and suddenly the offense has grown and is now bigger than life. The garbage was not taken outside. The underwear was left on the floor, again. You did not say I love you. You did not acknowledge me. Whatever the incident, we become offended and if we do no deal with it that offense begins to grow into anger which leads to bitterness, resentment, and hatred. The result is that we shut people off and we shut them out because we are hurt and do not want to deal with them anymore.

The progression is one that moves from small offensives until we are walled in by offense. When this happens the enemy has been successful in dividing and destroying us. It happens in families, on the job, with neighbors, friends, and it happens in our marriage. When you think about marriage it is the prime example of the kingdom of God. That is why the enemy is so ready to divide and destroy marriages. Someone has said that many divorces are not a sudden act but a series of offenses or wrongs that are never dealt with. It is a death by a 1000 cuts. This happens in all of our relationships when we do not positively respond to the offenses we encounter. 

As we look at this subject we must understand that we will encounter offensive situations but to be offended is a choice. Here is the point. We can be offended or we can choose to let go of the offense. Unconfessed offense and anger leads to a life that is less than we should have, but a life that surrenders offense is ready to let go of every sin. For that reason Jesus tells us that we are to leave our gift at the altar and go be reconciled with our brother. The solution to offense is forgiveness. Notice this occurs while we are at the alter. Why do we communicate with God? It is because in our communication with God, our hearts are exposed. That is why it is critical that we spend time with God.

This week I had a number of opportunities to be offended. Some were bigger than others but some were small. For example, I was in line at the checkout and the lady in front of me cut me off to get into the line. I felt my blood pressure start to rise when she began to pull stuff out of her cart and she had 31 items in the 12 item lane. And then, she needed a pack of cigarettes and began to discuss the kind of cigarettes she wanted after the cashier brought the wrong ones to her three times. After all of this, she fumbled with her pocketbook and could not find her money. Then the credit card she finally used was not any good. Meanwhile, there I stand with my two little items that I wanted to buy, get out of the store, and get back home. 

My initial response was to feel the hair on the back of my neck begin to bristle but then I remembered our study on Tuesday night, and listening to Steve Furtrick’s sermon. I realized that I had to let it go. Was it an opportunity to be offended? Yes! I had every reason to be angry and offended that this was going on right there in front of me, but I had to make a choice. Rather than being offended I chose to let it go. I admit that it was not easy, in fact I wanted to be angry but knew I could not based on what God had been teaching me. 

The question sometimes is what if I cannot resolve the offense or hurt. This could be because of a death, a divorce, or other major separation that may have occurred. The principle for us is that what we cannot resolve, we can release. This is not always an easy thing to do. But it is necessary. We cannot always resolve every problem, but we can release the hurt and pain. That is the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the offense and the anger we confront. That is why Paul made the following statements. Listen to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:31-32. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. And then in Colossians 3:8. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

The final point I wold like to make today is that once you are free do not go back. Paul in Galatians 5:1 paints us a picture. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Since this is a decision, we must decide that we will not go back to the offense. The temptation for us is to return to that offense because in the offense we can justify our anger, bitterness, and hurt. That has a binding effect on us. God wants us to be free and released from the burden of offense so that we can live free and whole.

As we consider this we must remember the One that is our greatest example. He was offended. His friends denied Him. His closest ally betrayed Him. He was falsely accused. He was beaten for a crime He did not commit. But when it mattered and He was about to take His last breath, He communicated this line that challenges us and convicts us, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Forgive them! That sometimes is the hardest thing we can do or request of God. Forgive them. But it is Jesus that empowers us to speak those words. They are words of power and grace and they are freeing. He died so that we could be free from our offense and from the power that offense holds over us. Let it go and be free. 

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Liberalism and Legalism Balanced by Grace

Peninsula Community Church

Liberalism and Legalism Balanced by Grace

March 10, 2019

Romans 6:10-14 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Over the next few weeks I would like to look at a couple of subjects that I believe will inspire us and help us in our growth in Christ. It will help us in our ability to reach people with the lifesaving message of the Gospel. Through these studies, I would like to look at what the men have been focusing on in their study on Tuesday nights. The challenge will be to let go of offense. We will look at the idea of reaping what we sow. Finally, we will look at the power of fear and how that can keep us from being the person God wants us to be.

Today, however, I want to focus on four ways to deal with the culture we encounter. First, we can compromise our beliefs to address the culture. Second, we address the culture by cloistering ourselves and moving to the margins by way of legalism. Third, we can address the culture by becoming apathetic about what is going on around us. This can produce an attitude of giving in and giving up as there is no faith or hope that things will change. I will also submit to you a fourth way to address the culture and that is through God’s grace. That will be our focus today.

Before we begin let me share some critical information that is a wake up call for the church. I have been reading many reports that show that most churches in the US are declining or or they are stagnate. In fact, I just read a report from the North American Mission Board of the SBC that reported that 85% of their churches are stagnate or declining. The consensus is that North American churches as a whole are declining or stagnate. 

Fortunately, there is another side to this story that must be considered. It is a sobering thought that those churches that are growing are growing because they are engaged with the communities they serve. They are not just a church in the community but they serve the community around them. This does not mean they are standing on the corner preaching but rather that they have a heart to see culture change one person at a time. They are reaching the unreachable. They are praying for their community. They are speaking God’s love. They resist judgement toward those they encounter. And, they sincerely love those in their community. They practice Christ’s last commands to His disciples. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Go is the great commandment. 

With that in mind let’s look at these issues. First, there is legalism. Legalism can be defined as the effort to control and manage sin. The truth of the matter is that we were never called to control or manage our sin or someone else’s sin for that matter. We were to called to forgive and allow the grace of God to fill us with the righteousness of Christ. That is what Paul is saying in the passage before us. Just because God calls us to be instruments of righteousness does not give us the right to control sin, especially the sin in others. Legalism leads to the judgement and criticism of others. We must use the instrument of righteousness correctly. Write this down. True righteous is not what we do as much as what we are. Here is the point. We can dress right, talk right, act right, and yet our hearts can be far from God or His purposes. This is most critical as we attempt to reach our culture. Remember the story that Jesus told. 

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus had this to say on this subject. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Notice what He says. We are trying to get the speck out of the other person’s eye while we have a log in our own eye. It never works. We need to deal with the log in our eye before we can consider the speck in someone’s eye. Legalism seems to always points out the sin of others and judges others for their sin rather than recognizing one’s own sin.

The other problem with legalism is that it tends to cause us to cloister together and make it hard for anyone to get into our little circle. We make it hard because we are quick to judge and beat our chest that we are not like the tax collector who was in humble prayer at the altar of God. Listen to Jesus’ words. ”Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:9-13)!

The second way we can address the culture is to compromise. Here we try to minimize sin in an attempt to reach the culture. You might say that legalism over emphasizes sin while liberalism under emphasizes sin. We ignore sin or worst yet we begin to engage in sin thinking that we will somehow be better positioned to reach our culture. The problem however is that we lose our influence in the very culture we are trying to reach. The problem is that without recognizing sin and wrong we cannot change or move toward a healthy environment. If there is nothing to change why would anyone want to become a Christian. 

We do not have to look very far to see how this is effecting our culture today. Whether we are looking at the abortion issue, euthanasia, gender identity, legalization of drugs, legalization of prostitution, and so much more we find that there is a minimization of sin and a distortion of truth. We find many who have a form of godliness but they deny the power of God to bring change and bring salvation. They would rather compromise than speak truth in love. They would rather look more like the culture than be in a position to bring change.

The third way to address the culture is to become apathetic. The problem here is that we come to the place where we do not care about people. We can lose our love for people and come to the place where we do not care if they are hurting or need help. We are in our own little world and that is all we care about. Sadly, we do no believe that God can bring change or bring salvation. This is really a state of faithlessness. 

But there is a better way and that is through the way of grace. Grace is a powerful tool and a powerful means to reach people with the gospel and make an investment in our community. Through grace we do not judge because we know that except for the grace of God we would be lost. If we are honest we would have to admit that we just sin differently than others because the fact is all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Roman’s 3:23). 

In our passage today we find that Paul issues a challenge to us and that is the consideration that we are dead to sin and alive to God. Think about that idea! We are dead to sin but alive with God. In our sin we are dead but in God we have life. Because of that we are commanded to present ourselves as instruments of righteousness versus instruments of unrighteousness. That is what it means to walk in grace. 

Let me ask you a question. Are people drawn to you, or are they pushed away when it comes to spiritual discussions? Jesus is our model. Sinners and saints were drawn to him because He was a real man dealing with real issues. That was grace. He met them where they were without judgement or condescension. He loved them enough to give everyone seeking grace that gift. 

In life, I find that the instruments we have can be powerful and bring life or they can bring destruction. The same instrument can cause life or it can cause death. It is for that reason that I believe that God gave us grace in order to use the instruments of righteousness the way we should. 

Through grace we will have a correct view of sin. Rather than cloistering ourselves together and maximizing sin, we will walk in grace. Rather than compromise and minimizing sin, we will develop a proper perspective of sin. Rather than apathy we are awakened to a new reality and a new way to live and connect with our community. We are grace receivers and we are grace givers. 

Let me close with a story I read just this week. A man went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone and during the the prayer time his phone accidentally rang. The pastor scolded him. The worshippers admonished him after the prayers for interrupting the silence. His wife kept lecturing him on his carelessness all the way home. One could see the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation on his face. After this he never set foot in church again.  

That evening, he went to a bar. He was sill nervous and trembling from his earlier adventure. He spilled his drink on the table by accident. The waiter apologized and gave him a napkin to clean himself. The janitor mopped the floor. The female manager offered him a complimentary drink. She also gave him a huge hug and a peck while saying, “Don’t worry man. Who doesn’t make mistakes?” He has not stopped going to that bar since then. We have the chance to give grace to others and touch this world with the gospel, the good news. 

So how is your grace today? Are you just a receiver or are you a giver of grace? 

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Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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