Sermon – Caring for the Lost

Matthew 9:35-38 – “35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

I never thought to look up the statistics on world religions until a few days ago and was surprised to find that one research group called the Pew Research Center had published some results online based on their statistics and prediction models (http://www.pewresearch.org/).

Slide1

They shared these findings back in April 2015, and it must have received some attention, because even CNN decided to report on some of their findings.  As I looked at the statistics, I was saddened by what I found, for the current state of the Christian church did not look good, and based on their predictions the future didn’t look any brighter either.  (This was even with the Christian group actually being mislabeled, because they included Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons and likely other groups that are pseudo-Christian but do not interpret the Bible in context.)  I put together some of the most striking results based on their published data on April 2015 (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/) and November 2015 (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/) in some slides.  One of the major findings was that the Muslim population was probably the fastest growing religious population and would eventually overtake Christianity in the year 2070 if the predictions and growth rates held true.  Now of course, their statistics took in things like age and fertility which helped boost the numbers, but nonetheless, the data indicated that Christianity was in the decline.

Slide2

When they looked at people switching into and out of religions by 2050, Christianity was predicted to have the biggest net loss with a number of countries losing their Christian majority.  Even the U.S. would see a drop in the percentage of Christians in the population, while other religions (even unaffiliated) would see a growth.

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What was worse for wear was that the predictions themselves were not the only bad thing, when they showed the statistics for the current state of Christians in the United States today based on a 2014 Religious Landscape Study, it was awful.  First and foremost, those who claimed to have a religious affiliation and found religion to be important declined since 2007, while those who didn’t care increased.  Second, those who claimed to be Christians carried much less socially conservative views, being open with things that God made clear in the Bible that He was not supportive of like homosexuality.  Third, 2/3 of these so-called “Christians” believed that other religions could lead to eternal life, which is a complete disregard of the teachings of the Bible that say that Jesus Christ is the only way (John 14:6).  This result wasn’t too surprising after I read that only 4/10 “Christians” say that the Bible should be interpreted literally.  From these findings, I could definitely conclude that Christianity was in decline and was in worse shape than they reported, because very likely the numbers they gave were overestimates since based on these results the majority of “Christians” they polled aren’t Christians at all.

Slide4

This study indicated that the state of the world is dire.  I wouldn’t be surprised that if I looked at statistics about other moral issues I would find even more unwelcome news, because based on their Religious Landscape Study of the US, the majority of people don’t even believe in an absolute right and wrong but that it depends on the situation (http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/sources-of-guidance-on-right-and-wrong/).

Slide5

Just look at how so many traditional values have already been tossed aside, like life-long marriage and abstinence before marriage; television shows are littered with unnecessary sexual garbage that show where we are spiritually as a people.  I don’t doubt if in the next decade or so, we will find out that the majority of people find pornography okay, premeditated murder in certain cases is acceptable, and polygamy is fine.  I think I heard that in Brazil there was even a group of three girls who got married to each other.  What is our world coming to?  All I can conclude is that the world is heading in the wrong direction and towards judgment – judgment for wickedness which is worse than it was before the Flood.  All I see is a world in dire need of a Savior, a world in need of someone to forgive them of their sin and to turn them back on the right path, a world in need of Jesus Christ.

The questions I want to ask you today are “Does this even matter to you?”  “Does it affect you?” “Does this do anything to your heart?” “Knowing how lost the world is, will this shift your actions?”  I have to admit that before seeing these stats, even though I already had a feeling that the world was in this condition, I didn’t care.  I already knew that I had many friends, colleagues, and relatives who are “lost,” who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, yet I did nothing about it.  If I took a poll right now, with all of you, asking you how many of you could name at least ten people in your life that do not know Christ, all of you could name them within 30 seconds.  It would be even faster if I included celebrities and people who you didn’t know personally.  But knowing this, have you done anything to share the Gospel with them?  Have you done anything for the lost?  Because I truly believe the harvest that Christ is speaking about in Matthew 9:35-38 is still there, we just have to go out and reap it.  Today, I want us to look at our passage and consider Jesus’ heart towards the lost and how ours should be as well.

Set Your Hearts for the Lost

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

The first thing we need to take note of in our passage today was Christ’s heart toward the lost.  Christ already had His hands full – healing the people, casting out demons, and preaching in all their synagogues.  He had spent countless hours with these men and women who had come to Him for the single reason of wanting to get something from Him.  These men and women who crowded Him now would eventually call to crucify Him, and He knew what was in their selfish hearts.  Yet rather than do the “human, natural” thing of being disappointed in them and turning them away, when He saw these people He had compassion for them.  The King of kings and Lord of lords who now acted as a servant rather than His deserved place as Master had compassion for the people who should be serving Him.  This was not some surface level concern for people who were in trouble that would be there for one moment and pass the next.  He wasn’t simply looking to start some social welfare program to help these people get on their feet and learn what it’s like to have three meals a day.  No, it was a strong emotional care for those who needed Him.  The word compassion in the Greek meant literally “to be moved as to one’s bowels”; the reason for this was that the bowels were supposed to be the seat of love and pity – it was where those emotions resided (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon).  Christ here is described to have been so moved that love and pity for these people poured out of Him.  He saw their need for a Savior, for a Shepherd, for a person to care and help them, and He longed to fulfill that need.  He saw a people who were lost and in need of guidance, and He wanted to be that Light and Way for them.

To help us better understand what was going on here, I want to relate it to a story about how my cousin got her dog.  My cousin maybe three years ago now adopted a dog from the shelter named Stewart.  She takes that dog everywhere.  When she comes down from Northern California to visit family, that dog rides home with her.  When she comes to my house for a family party that dog tags along.  That dog and her are almost inseparable.  And when I look at the dog, I’m not too sure why she chose him.  The dog granted is a pretty cute dog, but it doesn’t know any tricks and half the time it looks sad, because it has sad eyes.  And I am almost certain that it wasn’t cute when she got him, because it’s through her proper grooming that the dog looks nice today.  I can only assume that she must have chosen the dog out of the compassion of her heart.  If I recall properly, that dog was supposedly abused before it had gotten into the shelter, and because nobody was adopting him, he was in line to be put to sleep.  When she was at that shelter, she must have seen him so sad, so defeated, so in need of rescue, and was moved with compassion for him – a compassion that called her to act in the way of adopting him.  That is the heart of Jesus Christ here.  He saw the loneliness in each heart; He saw the lack of guidance; He saw their helplessness and was moved with compassion to act.

Our world today is so lost.  Just like the people in Christ’s time, they are like sheep without a shepherd.  Just like sheep that follow the thing in front of them whatever it may be, they are wandering this world drawn by the lights of fame and fortune and power.  They are being led by media, celebrities, and science.  They are blind people leading the blind.  They are going on through this life helpless and harassed by sin and the Devil.  And they have no hope for eternal life.  They turn to drugs and alcohol and sex.  They turn to professional careers and legacy.  They turn to all these temporary things of the earth to fill that hole in their hearts.  Yet how many of us are moved with compassion to bring them to know the only Person who can fulfill this hole in their hearts?  Take Miley Cyrus for example.  When I mentioned her name, what did you all think?  I’m almost certain that at least half of you thought, “What a waste?  If only her parents had disciplined her better?”  But how many of you thought, “That girl needs Jesus?”  How many of you did not think to condemn her but pray for her right now?  I doubt that even 10% of us did.  As Christians, we need to develop a heart for the lost; we need to be moved with compassion to act.  Not to just set up social programs for the lost; not just to teach them how to live their lives; but to lead them to the Good Shepherd.

Before moving on to our next point, I want to share another story.  Last Friday, I was talking with the Thai church’s college/youth group during dinner and the name of a kid came up.  This kid supposedly has bipolar disease and abandonment issues, because his mom and dad both didn’t want him, and right now, he is currently living with his grandma, who probably isn’t too privy to having him either, especially since she has trouble understanding him and his condition.  As we were talking, I could hear how everyone was saddened by his story and the struggle he had to deal with, but all were too afraid to do anything about it.  We all could tell he needed a person to show him love and concern, but nobody was waiting in line to volunteer.  This teenager who needed someone to stand alongside him and teach him and likely also discipline him had no one who cared for him enough to do anything about it.  I won’t say that I volunteered to do the job, because I’m probably just as worried about failing as everyone else is.  But our hearts as Christians need to be moved with compassion to act for these people.  This is one case in millions that are happening around the globe.  Is your heart moved with compassion for the lost?

Pray for the Lost

37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

After Christ saw the multitude and was moved with compassion for them, the next thing He did was tell His disciples to pray for them, specifically to pray “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Christ did not stop after having feelings of pity and love for these people; rather, He took those feelings and did something about them.  He prayed.  Now, in this passage, we are not told specifically that Christ prayed to the Father to send laborers out, but we can safely assume that if He asked His disciples to pray, He did as well.  He saw this not as a last resort action, but a necessary first move.  But so much of the time, people feel like prayer is the last thing that one should do.  I’m sure that we have all heard the story of how a man was sick in the hospital and had tried every treatment imaginable and was still not well.  When the doctor came in to speak to the family, he told them that now they should pray, and the family responded with “Have we already come to that?”  We might think this is just a joke, but in the last week, I heard this same type of response to prayer and seeking God for help twice.  First, in my lab, during a meeting, I think someone was struggling with an experiment, and jokingly, the lead investigator said something along the lines of “Maybe you can pray for it?” By the way he spoke he made it clear to everyone that he treated this option lightly.  Second, in the same lab, I was told a story about another scientist who was having the hardest time trying to get his experiment to work, struggling for five months or so.  Eventually, he went to the basilica of the school and grabbed holy water to use in his experiment instead of regular water.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that “holy water” from a church is something more powerful and should be used.  But the response of the person telling me the story clearly showed me that he didn’t hold much regard for prayer, faith, and seeking God for help as an important part of anything.  The sad thing about all this is that we as Christians often take prayer as our last resort too.  We will try our hardest to put in every physical effort we can, and only when we are at our whit’s end do we turn in prayer to God.

But prayer is always valued by Christ.  He prayed before He selected His twelve disciples (Luke 6:12-16).  He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion.  He prayed in the late nights and early mornings.  Christ was always in prayer with His Father.  And in the Bible, we are called to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16) and told that the prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).  We are always told to pray.  So why we would think the work of winning the lost would require otherwise?  In asking us to pray for the harvest, I believe Jesus was asking us to do two things in our prayer for the lost.

First, the more subtle hidden thing is that we need to pray for the harvest itself – the lost.  We need to pray that the people in this world who do not know God will be drawn to Him.  When was the last time you prayed for someone you personally know who doesn’t know Christ as their Lord and Savior to come to know Him that way?  I have to admit that this prayer is not one that comes up on my list often.  Just last week, I told the youth group that I teach to pray daily for at least 10 people they knew that weren’t Christians, but when I reflected on whether I did it as well, I think I only did it two out of the seven days.  It must have not been important to me, because I prayed about so many other things daily, but that wasn’t one of them.  I’m not looking to bash anybody who has left this prayer request out, but I am trying to remind you of how important it is.  Some of us have probably already spent years praying for someone we love to come to know Christ, yet it still hasn’t happened.  I encourage you to keep praying.  I know that I used to pray for a college classmate when I was still in undergrad, never expecting him to come to know Christ.  I think a year after I started to pray for him, he came to know Christ as His personal Lord and Savior.  So trust me, it can happen.  But I also understand the opposite case, because I have prayed for some friends for years, yet they still don’t know Him.  Currently, my list includes a close friend I made while at the NIH, a friend I made on the bus, some of my new classmates in graduate school, the lab supervisor who taught me how to work in a lab for the first time, the fiancé (whom I have never met) of a dear friend I met on a cruise ship, and many, many others.  I encourage you to compile a list of people you know that aren’t yet Christians and pray for them daily.  They are that harvest; so pray for them.

Second, obviously, Jesus Christ told us to pray to the Father to send laborers into the harvest.  We need to make it part of our daily prayer routine to ask God to send people out to share the Gospel.  We need to pray that God sends missionaries to places where His Word is not known.  We need to pray that God opens doors for those who are calling on Him in persecuted places to receive pastors and ministers.  We need to pray that more and more disciples will desire to enter into full-time or even part-time ministry so that more people will come to know Christ.  Pray for the revivals and crusades led by Franklin Graham and Greg Laurie.  Pray for encouragement of those people in your church who are going out and sharing the Gospel in their daily lives.  Pray for opportunities for you yourself to share the Gospel with others.  There are so many people in this world today who are hungering for God and the Bible, they just need someone to go out and share it with them.  In Acts 10, we are told the story of Cornelius who was a Roman centurion who sought God and followed Him.  He did not have a full picture of the Gospel, until Peter was called by God to go and share Jesus Christ with them.  There are people like Cornelius out in the world today, pray that God sends a Peter to serve them.  Pray for laborers to be sent into the bountiful harvest out there today.  When Jesus Christ sent out His disciples in Matthew 10, He told them that they would not even be able to go through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.  Simply put, He was telling them that there are so many people that need and want to hear the Gospel that even if they were to try their hardest to cover them all they couldn’t.  That means there needs to be more laborers.  Our Lord said, “The harvest is plenteous,” so let’s pray for some laborers to reap that harvest.

Labor for the Lost

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.

Matthew 10:5-8 – “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,[c] cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.”

Lastly, Christ asked His disciples to labor for the lost.  He set an example for them in vs. 35, going out and teaching in all the cities and villages and healing every disease and every affliction.  Then, He told His disciples to pray for laborers to labor in the harvest.  But He didn’t stop there, in Matthew 10, He finally told them to go out and be those laborers.  They were to follow His example and heal the sick and share the Gospel.  They were supposed to do the laboring.  So much of the time, we are just too lazy to work for the kingdom of God.  We are willing to give of our money to the ministry.  We are even willing enough to give of our prayers.  But how many of us are willing enough to give of ourselves?  How many of us are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to reap that harvest?

When we pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into the harvest, we better be sure that we are ready to be called as one of those laborers.  We can’t expect that God will simply ask us to sit this one out and just watch as the work is done.  No!  He already asked each and every one of us to “Go out and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Go out and make are not passive words, they are active action words; they are things that should be done – things that must be done.  James argues that faith without works is dead.  He states that there is no point in saying to a hungry man words like “Blessed be you and be filled,” when you don’t do your absolute best to feed him.  (James 2:14-26).  I argue that the same rule applies here.  There is no point in you praying to God to send out laborers into the harvest, if you aren’t out there working already.  You need to go out there actively reaping that harvest.

How many people in the last year did you share the Gospel with?  If I were to guess, most of us (and I include myself) could count the people in one hand.  This is not something to be proud of; it is a disgrace.  Who of you would go to work only one day in the year, if you knew your life and those you loved depended on it?  So why would you treat this spiritually important issue that way?  Who of you would only call out to save one person from a fire in a burning building?  So why would you not warn every one of the Lake of Fire?  In Ezekiel 33, Ezekiel was called a watchman.  He was called by God to give warning of the impending judgment.  It states very clearly in vs. 7-9 that if he did not give warning, the blood of those who died would be on him – “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”  This is the same call that is given to each and every one of us.  We are the watchmen of this generation.  We need to call out for the lost.  We need to labor.

I want to challenge everyone to go out and share the Gospel with at least one person every month of this year – that means twelve people will hear the Gospel from your mouth this year.  That’s not asking a lot.  There was a famous preacher (I’m not sure if it was Spurgeon or someone else), who made a promise that he would share the Gospel with at least one person every day.  It was said that one time, he forgot to share the Gospel before he got home, so what he did was he put his jacket back on and wandered the streets until he found one person to share with.  He made a commitment to spread the Word, and he did it.  Make a commitment to do so today.

Conclusion

The world we live in today is filled with so many people that are lost.  If you look right outside your door, there is a harvest before you.  Many people are ready to receive the Gospel.  Many people are just waiting to hear it.  I encourage you to take the effort and consider those who are lost.  Don’t make it a passing thought, but really be moved in compassion for them; pray for them; labor for them.  Don’t be afraid!  God will give you the words to speak and to share.  Just go out and be willing to be a laborer in that harvest for Him.  Go out and share the Gospel, so we can change those statistics.  Let’s prove the Pew Research Council wrong and show them that Christians are not in the decline, but we are in a new growth phase that they did not expect.  Work with God and the Holy Spirit to reap the harvest.

  1. Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995.

Quick Note – Revelation 22:21 – A Wish for the New Year!

Revelation 22:21 – “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.  Amen.”

Happy Blessed New Year!  Being that New Year’s Day is an appropriate time to wish everyone well, I considered what blessings I could wish you all for the upcoming year.  Should I wish you all a prosperous year filled with financial success?  Should I wish those who are working a promotion at their jobs and those who are studying honors at their schools?  Or should I wish you all good relationships with family and friends with no conflict whatsoever?  These would all be wonderful blessings to wish you all, but they wouldn’t be the greatest blessing that I could wish you.  The best blessing I could wish you this upcoming year is that “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with [you] all.”  How interesting that the last verse in the Bible is the best blessing I could wish you for the New Year!

Grace, in its simplest definition, is getting what you don’t deserve.  And when I, like John, wish that the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all, I wish you all the things that Christ gives us that we don’t deserve.  This includes life and breath, health, salvation, and even our spiritual relationships with Him.  All of these blessings are given to us through the grace of God, for we cannot work for any of these things, rather they are gifts from our God.  So when I wish you this blessing, I am praying all of these things for you.  First, I pray that Christ will grant you salvation and the forgiveness of sin.  For those who do not know Christ, I pray that the Holy Spirit will turn your hearts to Him as your Lord and Savior.  We as sinners deserve death, but rather than giving us death, Jesus Christ through His grace gave salvation to all who would give their hearts and lives to Him.  This is the greatest blessing you could have, for it will change your life in ways you cannot even begin to imagine.  Second, I pray that Christ will grant you life and peace throughout this upcoming year.  Every breath we take, the health we have, and the things we enjoy are all gifts from God.  We don’t deserve any of it.  It is only through His grace and love that we get to have all of this.  Life is a gift from God, and I pray that God will grant you His peace even through the struggles you may experience this year.  Third, I pray that Christ will grant you a stronger spiritual walk with Him.  May this year be a time where you will draw near to God in ways that you never have before.  May you grow ever closer to Him, knowing and loving Him more each day of 2016.  As you draw near to Him, He promises He will draw near to you.  Lastly, the greatest thing I can pray for you is the presence of Jesus Christ throughout the year.  When John wished the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all, he was not only wishing all the blessings that Christ gave us, but the blessing of Christ Himself.  When you have Jesus Christ, you have everything.  By having His presence in your life, you have the Creator of the Universe, the Author of Salvation, the Prince of Peace, and the Great Shepherd on your side.  You have the greatest gift – Jesus Christ.  He will sustain you, encourage you, and even correct you (when necessary).  He will be your Greatest Friend and Brother.  He will be your Lord and Savior.  He will be your God.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all this upcoming year.  Amen.

Quick Note – Zechariah 3:1-2 – No More Guilt!

Zechariah 3:1-2 – “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.  And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan!  The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!  Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’”

Before the New Year comes around, I take some time to reflect on what has happened over the past year.  I consider the good times and the bad times, the people I’ve met and lost, the habits and hobbies I’ve discovered and stopped, and most importantly, the choices I’ve made.  2015 has definitely been a roller coaster of a year.  I had emotional ups and downs, important career and relationship choices, and new hobbies.  There were certain important points of the year though which stick out from all the rest.  The first was the emotional hurricane I went through at the start of the year when I decided to stop investing myself into a friendship after hearing some unwelcome news that hurt me.  Because of this incident, the first two months of 2015 were some of the most depressing moments I have felt in my life.  If it wasn’t for the important graduate school interviews I had at the time, the pain would have continued for much longer.  The second was the decision I made to give up my Ivy League school dreams and attend UCLA for graduate school.  This was certainly a “What If” moment in my life, because I had the choice to go to Harvard and Yale (and Yale with an additional scholarship) but decided to put away my pride, hopes, and dreams to follow what I believe was God’s decision for my life – to continue my studies at UCLA.  (The details of this choice and why they were made were written in a blog post earlier this year.)  I have no clue what this road may bring, and I will admit that I have had many doubts many times about whether I had made the right decision or not, but as of now, I will trust that God can work all of it together for my good if I focus on using my situation to honor Him.  The third important point was when I started graduate school in October.   During the first year of graduate school, all students are required to do a number of 10-week rotations in various labs.  We do this so that we can experience new lab environments and make an informed choice as to which lab we would like to spend the next four years working on our theses in.  I went into this requirement with the closed mind and singular purpose of just getting through the rotations and returning to my old lab.  But the last three months in my first rotation lab helped me to discover other fields of research that I am interested in.  This first rotation has changed my mindset and has taught me to go into opportunities with an open mind.

In addition, to these important points of 2015, there were also some other minor but good highlights.  For example, I became more outgoing and quickly made new friends with the other graduate students in my program.  To my surprise, I was even invited to a last-minute Christmas get-together, something that never happened in high school.  I also found new hobbies like Post-It Note art and tabletop board gaming.   Now, I have a fairly large board game collection and have become a more confident artist.   And probably one of the coolest things that happened this year was that I got to play a role in the spiritual growth of one of the students in the youth/college group I teach.  She even finished reading her Bible through this year, which is amazing.  I did nothing but encourage her to start, but I’m glad that I got to do even that much.

Unfortunately, personally, I have struggled spiritually this year.  I have doubted God’s goodness, love, and direction for my life.  Although ultimately I have chosen to obey Him, I have done so half-heartedly much of the time.  I have done lots of things I regret and have fallen to temptations that I never thought I would fall to.  In addition to all of this, my Bible reading and prayer although consistent were not completely focused on God; often, it was just to fulfill what I felt was a daily obligation.  Recently though, I think a change has happened spiritually, when I decided to stop wrestling with the Lord for control of my life and instead to leave it all in His capable and faithful hands.  I think the decision was timely, because the New Year is coming up.  The only issue is that the guilt for the wrongdoings that occurred this past year will likely still linger into the New Year and may at times tempt me to go back to my old ways.

One of the most common problems that Christians struggle with is guilt.  Some Christians may argue that guilt is an even bigger problem than the temptation to sin, because you can choose to not continue to sin, but you can’t change the fact that you already have.  Guilt in and of itself is not necessarily bad, because it is a feeling that helps us realize that we have wronged God and can lead us to repentance and salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).  But it can also be used by the Devil to cause unfruitfulness.  Even after a Christian has repented of his sin and has received God’s forgiveness, Satan will use guilt to paralyze the Christian from further spiritual growth.  The guilt leads to a downtrodden attitude, a stifled spiritual relationship with God, and an ineffective ministry.  Instead of taking joy in the forgiveness, grace, and mercy given by God, the guilt-ridden person wallows in self-pity and allows the guilt to make his testimony and ministry useless, which is exactly what Satan wants.  In our passage today, we see Satan try to do exactly that with Joshua the high priest.  He stood before God as an accuser, calling God to punish him.  But instead of punishing Joshua or reaffirming Satan’s statement, the Lord rebukes Satan, letting him know that Joshua has already been forgiven, purified, and plucked out of the fire.  God didn’t pummel Joshua with guilt but encouraged him by letting him know that he was saved.

As Christians, we need to remind ourselves that we have been saved by the grace and mercy of God.  The debt of sin we owed, which is death, was paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross when He died for our sins; and if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  We need not live in guilt of past sins, for they have been paid.  We need not live in guilt of sins that we in the future will commit and hopefully will confess and will repent from, for they have been paid as well.  Guilt should not be a part of our lives except when we choose to deliberately disobey God, and it should leave immediately after we confess and repent.  (And I emphasize the repentance, which means that you must turn away from your sins and to Christ.)  No matter what you did in the past, do not let the sins and guilt define your future, for God sees you as a new and pure creation in His sight.  If He was able to forgive Paul after he had persecuted the church and caused many to blaspheme His name, then He is able to forgive you.  You like Joshua are a brand plucked out of the fire, so instead of wallowing in guilt, give thanks to God for His mercy and grace.  This New Year of 2016, leave your sins at the cross by confessing and repenting from them and leave your guilt there as well, knowing that Christ will not accuse you but will welcome you in His arms today.  Happy Blessed New Year!

Quick Note – Proverbs 23:31 – Don’t Even Look!

Proverbs 23:31 – “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.”

The Biblical view on alcohol use has been debated for quite some time.  Some denominations and churches feel like drinking alcohol should be completely avoided, while others feel like it can be consumed in moderation.  Those who believe the former quote verses about drunkenness like Ephesians 5:18 and Galatians 5:19-21, while those of the latter refer to the story of how Jesus turned water into wine in John 2 and Paul’s advice to Timothy to drink a little wine to help his stomach in 1 Timothy 5:23.  Though the debate on its use is still ongoing, one thing is clear – the Bible definitely condemns drunkenness as a sin, so Christians should never get drunk.  But whether or not it should be used at all is a personal decision that you need to make with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I myself have chosen to abstain from alcohol consumption except when used in cooking.  I may sip a little from my parent’s/friend’s glass to taste it, but I will not actually drink a full glass myself.  I choose to avoid it for two reasons.  The first is that I know that I have an addictive personality, and that doesn’t mix well with alcohol.  Second is that I do not feel that it is very wise to drink.  The book of Proverbs warns about the dangers of alcohol multiple times.  Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”  Proverbs 23:29-35 gives a clear warning about how alcohol can alter your judgment, and Proverbs 31:4-7 mentions how alcohol is not for kings but for those in poverty and misery, because of how it impairs judgment.  Now, I am in no way condemning/judging those who drink alcohol in moderation, because I don’t think the Bible necessarily condemns anything but drunkenness, but I made the personal decision to avoid it.

King Solomon warns about the dangers of alcohol in our passage today by recommending that a person avoid it completely – “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.”  He doesn’t just say, “Don’t drink it!” he says, “Don’t even look at it.”  The reason for this warning is not to condemn alcohol all together, for I am almost certain, Solomon, one of the richest kings to ever live, did drink his fair share of wine, but to give a warning to avoid the opportunity to fall into sin at all costs.  The primary focus of this post today is not to talk about alcohol but about avoiding sin at all costs.   As Christians, we know that sin should not be treated lightly.  It cripples our spiritual growth, brings tears to the sight of God; and destroys our relationships with Him.  Sin should be avoided all the time; but more often than not, we will instead “play with sin.”  We will toy with the idea of committing the sin, placing ourselves in situations where we have the opportunity to sin.  Rather than run away from sin like Joseph did (when given the opportunity to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife), we instead sit around, contemplating whether we should sin or not.  Playing with sin/temptation is akin to sticking your head in a lion’s mouth, dipping your bleeding arm in a shark’s tank, petting a cobra, or balancing on the rails of Niagara Falls.  The danger is high; the risk is high; and more likely than not, you will get hurt.  Teetering on the edge of sin is a high risk, highly dangerous activity; it is almost guaranteed that you will fall to the temptation and sin in the end.  Rather than toying with it, we should flee from it, for we are not master “sin” charmers who can take the sin out of the basket and put it right back in.  1 Corinthians 10:12 states, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”  Don’t be prideful, thinking you will not fall into a certain sin; rather take heed and be careful.  A few years back, I told a fellow Christian brother of mine that I don’t need to worry about certain sins that he was struggling with, because I just wasn’t built to have those problems.  Rather than put up the necessary guards against that sin, I would toy with it, and sure enough, I fell into the same sins he warned me about.  My pride and my decision to treat that sin lightly, led to my falling.

Obviously, we should not commit sin.  But in addition to that, we should be wary of even entertaining the opportunity to sin – we should not look at it, toy with it, or allow the temptation to linger in our minds.  We should not look at the “sin” when it is red.  Let us be like the blessed man in Psalm 1:1, “…who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…”  The blessed man protects himself from sin and wickedness by never associating with it in the first place.  He will not sit with it, stand with it, or even walk with it; instead he runs from it.  And so should we.  Run from it as far and as fast as you can – not because you are afraid of it (for we have the power to resist sin through the Holy Spirit), but because we fear/respect our God so much that we don’t want to even risk disappointing Him.

Quick Note – Ezekiel 6:9 – Breaking God’s Heart

Ezekiel 6:9 – “…Then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols.  And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.”

Have you ever felt disappointed in a person, because they didn’t meet your expectations of them?  Teachers (and likely parents) probably understand this feeling better than anyone else, because oftentimes, they can see the potential that their students could achieve if they would just study, yet the students often don’t study.  Being a Bible teacher of high school and college students at church, I know this exact feeling.  I can see that these youth have the potential to grow closer to Christ, to know more about Him, to become lights for Christ in their generation, but when I look at their spiritual walks, it seems like they don’t put enough effort in their relationships with Him.  Now, of course, I do not know their personal relationships with God, so they might be growing in ways I do not know; but oftentimes, I feel like they aren’t studying the Bible enough, they aren’t paying attention enough, and they don’t have the desire to grow closer to God.  Occasionally, when I think about it, my heart breaks, because I feel like their potential is being wasted.

In our passage today, we read about the disappointment God had towards His people Israel.  This nation that God had hand-picked, delivered from Egypt, and given His laws to, were supposed to be a light to the nations and an example to all people of the greatness and goodness of God.  But instead, they turned from the Lord and chased after the false gods of other nations, worshipping these idols rather than the one true God.  Just like a husband, who has discovered that his wife was committing adultery, God’s heart was broken by their betrayal – “how I have been broken over their whoring heart.”  They had made a covenant to devote their lives to Him yet turned away from Him every opportunity they had.  Because of their idolatry and adultery, God judged them sending them into exile among the nations not to return till much later.  The Israelites must have thought their idolatry was not a big deal, that it could not really affect this God; but what they didn’t realize was their idolatry, or simply their sin, broke God’s heart.  Something that might have seemed small to them hurt God.

When I look at the world around us today, sin seems to be taken lightly just like it was with the Israelites thousands of years ago.  Even Christians today seem to treat sin as if it is just a winding door of forgiveness.  They sin, ask for forgiveness, and try to be back in God’s good graces within the hour; then they repeat the sin within the hour after that.  They treat God’s grace as a guaranteed forgiving machine; simply put, they abuse God’s grace.  They forget, or don’t realize in the first place, how much sin breaks God’s heart.  God hates sin, so how can we who claim to be His children, His friends, His followers treat it so lightly?  And to add salt to that wound, we often prioritize our God last.  We will put our families before Him, our jobs before Him, and sometimes even our hobbies before Him, thinking that we have not done anything wrong; but in reality, what we have done is committed idolatry.  Whenever we place anything else before God, we have made an idol and have broken His heart.  It disappoints Him to see us who claim to be His disciples run to these idols and sins.  Instead, we need to treat sin and idolatry as if they were the plague, something that should be avoided at all costs – something that we would never want to have or experience.  Let us run from sin, as Joseph did when given the option to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife, because he did not want to sin before God.  Let us stay strong and choose not to sin, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego chose not to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol.  Let us do our best to never break our God and Father’s heart.  Instead, let us love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, giving Him our all everyday of our lives.

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