Quick Note – Ezekiel 27:27 – The Greatest Gift

Ezekiel 37:27 – My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Shopping for a birthday or Christmas present for someone can often be very difficult. I have always struggled with it; because more often than not, the people I am shopping for simply tell me, “You don’t have to get me anything.” This doesn’t help me in any way, because it still leaves me with no clue what to get them. I just have to guess that they may want what I am about to give them. To make my life easier, for both my parents, I have settled on making them a hand-drawn card and writing a personal note telling them how much I love and appreciate them. They get this on Father’s/Mother’s Day’s, Christmas’s, and birthdays. That is the gift I decided to get them. I still feel fairly cheap for not getting them an actual physical present, but based on their reactions, they seem to appreciate the gift. They rather have a token of love than any new gadget or expensive piece of jewelry. I think this is true for many people; they would rather have something made from the person they love than just a simple store-bought gift, because it shows that the person was willing to give their time and effort for them.
As the Lord of all Creation and the God of the universe, God could have easily just given us anything we wanted. He could throw all the blessings and gifts that we want our way and be rid of us, not being involved with any part and portion of our lives. And after the Fall of man, after we chose sin over following God, He had every right to just toss us aside and treat us like the dirt we actually are. But instead of doing any of that, He chose to be involved with our lives. He chose to send His Son Jesus Christ to the earth to die for our sins, so that we could have a renewed relationship with Him. God chose to show us His love, mercy, and grace. He chose to dwell with us. He wanted to be with us. The greatest gift that God could give us is not money or fame or health; the greatest gift He could give us is Himself. And that is exactly what He did. As Christians, we get to have God dwell with us. His Spirit lives in our hearts, guiding and directing our lives (1 Corinthians 13:6). He is in constant communication with us. He is our God, and we are His people. He is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His pasture. He is our Father, and we are His children. God loved us so much that He gave us Himself and continues to do so today.
So if you are already a Christian, then spend time today thanking God for His desire to build a relationship with you. If you are not a Christian yet, then what is keeping you from this great gift? Turn to Him today. You can have God dwell with you too.  All you have to do is to trust Him as your Lord and Savior and ask Him into your heart today.  No matter whether you are already a disciple of Christ or not yet, I wish you what Scott Wesley Brown did in his song, “I wish you Jesus, cause when I wish you Jesus, I’ve wished you ev’rything.”

Sermon – James 4:6-10 -Submit to God

James 4:6-10 – “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Do you remember the time when you were first learning to drive?  Either your driving teacher or your mom or your dad was sitting on the passenger side, while you had both hands on the wheel.  They would tell you to check that your seat belt was on, put your hands on 10 and 2, and slowly pull out of the driveway.  Everything seemed calm as you rolled out onto the street and were driving your first block up to the STOP sign, when suddenly you hear, a yell, “STOP!!!  STOP already!!  Put your foot on the brake now!!”  You throw your foot on the brake and look at them as you see their hands and feet in driving position, slamming the brake on the floor, as their faces tensed up in fear as if their lives had just flashed before their eyes.  They act as if they are in the driver’s seat with full control of the car.  I think that is probably why driving instructors have that extra wheel in their cars.  They need to have backup control of the car, in case, you make a mistake.  They need control.  What’s funny is that you may think that this will stop once you got a license, but it doesn’t.  You think that your parents or spouse or whoever will trust you to drive the car safely and well, yet it still continues.  When I drive with my parents, I still get told what to do when driving – “Stop! The light is turning red,” (The hand on the pedestrian walkway still reads 10 seconds to cross.  Of course, it won’t turn red yet.), or “You’re driving too close to the right lane,” or my favorite, “Why didn’t you turn already?”  The back/side seat driving never stops; the person who does it just changes.  The reason for this I think is that everyone feels like they need to be in control.

It is hard for us as human beings to give up control and to put ourselves under somebody else’s provision, safe watching, and control.  We feel like if we don’t have full grasp of the situation, full ability to change it when necessary, full freedom to fix it the way we want, that something will always go wrong.  We often feel like we are the only ones who can do something right.  I won’t pretend like I don’t have that same problem.  When I used to teach undergrads how to run experiments in the lab, I was always afraid something would go wrong.  Instead of, teaching them and then trusting them to know what to do, I would watch them like a hawk, making sure that everything was done the exact way I had showed them.  I needed to control the situation.  I think a similar thing happens when people are starting to fall in love.  They start losing control of the situation, because they are now becoming dependent or vulnerable to another person.  When they realize they have lost full control, then they run from it, fearing that all will go wrong, sabotaging the relationship.  All because they feel like they need control.

This is why one of the hardest things to do in life is to submit.  Submission is looked upon as indicative of weakness.  Like if you submit to another, you are telling the world that you will be under the control of someone else, that you are a slave or someone of less value than the person you submit to.  It is seen as a failure, in which, you admit that you need this other person or can no longer fight for control.  That is why submission requires the breakdown of your pride, which is a big task to ask anyone to do – to give up his pride.  Submission is difficult, and to unbelievers, it looks even worse when someone submits to God.  To many of them, because they do not understand who God is or even believe that He exists, they treat your submission to God as foolishness.  They see you as a person with no drive, no self-confidence, no direction, and no decisiveness.  They see you as a person who is just trying to pass the blame to someone else.  They don’t understand it, so all they see is weakness.  But submitting to God is never weakness, it is actually wisdom and strength. 

For the next two weeks, we (Pastor Charles Cutney and I) will talk about a passage from James 4:6-10.  When James wrote this passage to his fellow Christians, he was trying to address a serious problem in the church – they were arguing and quarreling over the things that they coveted, building friendships with the world rather than God.  Their covetousness and lusts brought them away from God.  By studying this passage, we can learn about how to fight this problem and develop a closer relationship with God.  Doing so takes two steps; first is submission to God, which is a step in the right direction, and the second is to resist the devil, which is a step away from the wrong direction.  What we will focus on today is submitting to God.

What Does It Mean to Submit to God?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word submit means “to yield oneself to the authority or will of another” or “to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/submit).  The Greek word for submit is hupotasso, which means “to arrange under, to subordinate” or “to subject one’s self, obey” or “to submit to one’s control.”  In Greek, it had two similar meanings based on whether you were part of the military or not.  If you were in the military, it meant that you were placing yourself as a solider under the command of a specific leader.  And if you weren’t in the military, it meant that you were acting with “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”  (Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon)  Simply put, submission meant to give control of your life to another person.  James 4:7 states, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.”  So how do we even do this?  What does submission to God require?

First and foremost, it requires humility.  Vs. 6 tells us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  It is impossible to submit to God without humility.  The decision to put yourself under the control of another requires this type of attitude.  There is no way around it.  You can’t submit, if you are proud.  If you think of yourself as a person who knows better than God, who thinks that you can make a better decision for your life, then you will never submit to Him.  Instead, you will fight Him on every decision.  You will argue with Him on every point.  You will “assert your authority.”  Submission requires by definition, a willingness to put yourself lower, to see yourself as someone who knows that the other one is better.  It is an attitude of humility.  It is a choice to put yourself under God’s control.

Second, to submit to God means that you have chosen to put yourself under His rules.  You cannot submit to God, if you are going to blatantly disobey Him.  That is not submission, for in that case, you have not given Him authority of your life.  In vs. 8-9 of James 4, he tells the people to “cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  Was James some masochist, who was asking the people to hurt themselves?  No, not at all!  James was telling them that they needed to repent, that they needed to change their hearts, that if they were to submit to God, they would need to turn away from their sin and turn to God.  How can you say you have submitted yourself to a king, if you will not obey the king’s orders?  Of course, that is no submission.  You may say that you have, but your actions speak otherwise.  When you submit to God, you choose to follow His law.  Submission requires obedience.

Thirdly, submitting to God means that you are drawing close to Him (vs. 8).  You need to get to know the person you are submitting to.  When you understand who a person is that is when you know whether he or she is a person worth submitting to, and that can only happen, when you get to know that person better.  James 4:8 tells us to “Draw near to God.”  We need to get closer to Him.  And the way we do that is by first, getting to know His Word through reading the Bible, because that is how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.  And second, by obeying His Word.

Psalm 15 says, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?  Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

Psalm 24:3-6 says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”

These two psalms share one simple idea – it is the person who obeys God that draws closer to Him.

Why Should We Submit to God?

So the question we need to answer now is “Why?  Why should we submit to God?  Why should we give Him full-control of our lives?”  No person in his right mind would just give up control of his life to another person for no good reason.  When you are in love, you do it because you love and trust that person and want to make them happy.  When you are at work, you do it to your boss, because he has possibly earned the title and the respect.  If you are speaking to the President, you do it because of his position.  You willingly submit yourself to others, when you feel that they are worth submitting to.  So why should we submit ourselves to God?  There are three main reasons why we should.

First, we should submit ourselves to God, simply because He is God.  Based on His position, we have no reason not to submit ourselves to Him.  Psalm 100:3 states, “Know that the LORD, He is God!  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.”  God is the Creator of the universe; He is the Lord of all Creation; He is the King of kings and Lord of Lords.  He is God.  He is the omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (all-present) God.  This God of the Bible that we read about, that we hear about, that is talking to us through His Word right now is the one and only true God.  Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  Do you see God trying to give us a strong reason to submit to Him, as if He has no rights to our lives?  No, not at all!  He just tells us, “I am God.  Submit.”  He needs no argument.  He needs no reason.  We should submit to Him, simply because of who He is.  And if that hasn’t convinced you, take a look at the second half of Psalm 100:3, “…It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.”  We belong to God.  God created us to honor and praise and give Him glory.  God purchased us through His blood.  He made us, and He deserves our submission.  Just ask yourself.  If you made a machine, put all the components together, what do you expect the machine to do?  You expect it to the do the job you created it to do.  You don’t tell the machine, “You must listen to what I say, because of this reason and that reason.” No, you simply expect it to do so.  You made it.  It’s your machine.  It should obey you.  For no other reason, we should submit ourselves to God, simply because of who He is – He is God, and He deserves our respect.

Second, we should submit ourselves to God, because of what He has done.  If God was a cruel master, a person who sought our destruction and pain, you could possibly make an argument that He isn’t worthy of our obedience (although simply because of His position as God, He is).  But God is nothing like that.  Our God provides and protects us.  He looks out for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28).  Our God gave Himself up for us.  He sent His only begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16), and He died for us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:8).  Even before we knew Him, He had chosen us to be a part of His family.  He loves us.  If that is not a good enough reason for us to submit ourselves to Him, I have no clue what else can convince you.  We should be thankful for all that He has done.  By not submitting yourself to Him, you are acting like a spoiled brat, who though he has received everything good from his parents, still screams and yells and treats his parents with disrespect.  We are lucky that God is so patient with us, because I can tell you honestly, that if I act how I do with God, with my parents, I probably would have been kicked out a long time ago.  If we are willing to act gratefully to our parents, why would we not do so for the One who gave up everything for us though He deserved that from us?

Third, we should submit ourselves to God, because of what He will do.  Based on James 4:6-10, when you submit yourself to God three things will happen.  First, God will give you more grace.  Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.  And in vs. 6, we are told that God gives more grace and that God gives grace to the humble.  What grace are we talking about?  In the context of this passage, James was telling his fellow Christians, that God will give you the grace to resist sin.  In the earlier verses, it speaks about how the people were falling to their lusts and how they were choosing friendship with the world rather than with God.  In vs. 5, he told them that God was jealously yearning for their spirt.  So in vs. 6, he told them that God will give them grace – grace to fight back from the control of sin.  But we can extend that meaning just a little more by considering other passages in the Bible about grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith….”  We don’t deserve salvation, and He gave that to us.  That is grace.  We are told throughout the Bible, that we are given the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; Ephesians 1:13).  We don’t deserve His presence continually in our lives.  That is grace.  God has given us His grace in salvation and will continue to give us the grace to resist sin.  Similarly, the second thing that will happen is that God will draw nigh to us (vs. 8).  This is associated with the first thing that will happen, because it is by grace that we even get the opportunity to know God.  It is by grace, for we have done nothing to deserve His love and His relationship with us.  Most people when they are in love, come to a point where they feel like they don’t deserve the other person.  They realize that they have done nothing to deserve that love but are just grateful for having the opportunity to get to know and spend time with the one they love.  They are glad for that closeness that is shared between them and only them.  That is what is going on here.  When you draw near to God by submitting to Him, He will draw near to you.  He will pull Himself closer and allow you to get to know Him more.  Who would not want to get to know someone who is like our God?  We scramble for the opportunity to get to know celebrities like Steph Curry or Steven Spielberg or for people like me comic book writers like Robert Venditti.  We work for the chance to even meet them, but in this case, God is coming to meet us.  That is such a beautiful and gracious gift and such a good reason to submit to Him.  Lastly, when you submit to Him, He will exalt you (vs. 10).  Throughout the Proverbs, we are told that the proud will fall, and the humble in spirit will be exalted.  And we are reminded here again.  God takes those who are weak, who are dependent on Him, and He lifts them up.  It may not be at this time while we are here on earth, but we will get to take part in His glory when He returns.  And what greater glory could there be?

If for no other reason than being who He is, we should submit ourselves to Him.  But He gave us more reasons when He sent His Son to die for us.  He gave us more reasons when He showed us His love.  He gave us more reasons when He led us as a Shepherd.  And He continues to give us reasons as He builds our relationship with Him.  Place yourself under the authority and control of the One who died for you and continues to love you today.  Give yourself to God.  It may seem like weakness to the world, but you will be at your most powerful, for you have just chosen to ally yourself with God.

Quick Note – Psalm 34:1 – Worship All the Time

Psalm 34:1 – “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

There are things that we do every day – we sleep, we eat, and we brush our teeth.  For some, we add daily habits like taking a shower in the morning and/or evening, checking our emails, and feeding our dogs.  And on top of all of this, some of us add working out at the gym, practicing an instrument, watching a certain TV show, or checking Facebook.  The habitual practices that we have in our daily routine show us what is important to us.  That is why people say that you can know his person by his checkbook (how he spends his money) and his calendar (how he spends his time).  We as Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ should take the time every day to praise and worship God.  The Psalmist in Psalm 34 states that he will “bless the LORD at all times” and that “His praise shall continually be in my [his] mouth.”  The Psalmist wanted to spend the whole day, every day in praise and worship to God.  That didn’t mean that he would sit in church all day singing praise songs and hymns.  That didn’t mean that his whole day would be in front of a Bible reading.  What he was trying to say was that his whole life would be lived in a way that blesses God and brings Him praise.  If he was working, he would do it to the honor and glory of God.  If he was playing, he would do it to God’s glory.  If he was walking or driving or traveling, wherever he went and whatever he was doing, he would worship God.  When every act of every day is focused on God, you are worshiping in what you do.  We as Christians need to live our lives this way, for it says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Live your life in praise to Him!

Sermon – Overcoming Past Mistakes

1 Samuel 12:19-25 – “19 And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” 20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 23 Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24 Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

When someone has wronged you, it can usually be pretty difficult to forgive.  It takes a lot of effort, a lot of grace, and a lot of mercy.  And even then, it takes a lot of time, for a person to get to the point where they can forgive.  It is just so difficult for us as human beings to give the same forgiveness that God our Father gave to us.  Just take a look at the superheroes and vigilantes that we hear about in pop culture.  The Punisher, a recent vigilante highlighted in Netflix’s Daredevil series, went out of his way to take revenge on the crime bosses who killed his family.  Batman initially trained to become the Dark Knight to take revenge on the man who shot his father and mother in Crime Alley.  Even our friendly neighborhood Spider-man started his heroic adventures by first chasing down the man who killed his Uncle Ben.  The desire for revenge often feels insatiable, but often times, with the proper help, this desire can be overcome, and a person can forgive those who have wronged them.

What is actually much harder to do is to forgive oneself.  When we mess up and do something wrong, we tend to beat ourselves up about it.  We will go around and around blaming ourselves and never letting go of the mistakes we have made.  We relive the mistake in our minds every day and sometimes every moment just to torture ourselves, because we don’t feel like we deserve forgiveness.  Take Spider-man as an example again.  He was able to forgive the man who shot his Uncle Ben, but it took him forever to forgive himself for his role in the death of his love Gwen Stacy (She died, because he made a mistake when rescuing her from falling by throwing a bungee cord web that caused a recoil that led to a snap in her neck).  That mistake continues to impact his life, because every time he rescues someone falling, he will never throw a bungee cord line any longer.  He will either swing in and catch the person or throw a net under the person.  Don’t get me wrong!  When we make a mistake, we should have a heart of repentance, and sometimes remember what we have done so that we don’t repeat the same mistake; but we must also learn to forgive ourselves and move forward, not wallow in our pity and self-inflicted guilt.

In 1 Samuel 12, we find that the people of Israel also struggled with this inability to forgive themselves.  After Samuel had grown old and had appointed his corrupt, bribe-taking sons as judges, the people of Israel cried out for a king.  They told Samuel that his sons were wicked and that they needed a king to judge them and lead them into battle like all the other nations around them (1 Samuel 8:1-8).  They wanted a king that they could see and hear and touch and feel, not some abstract God who they felt was too distant to do anything for them.  So instead of allowing God to be their king as He had been since Egypt, they chose to have a human king.  God gave them their wish and appointed Saul as their king, but not without warning that their king (maybe not Saul but in the future) may take advantage of them.  God was not pleased to be relegated, but He allowed it.  Knowing this when Samuel was giving some parting words to the people of Israel, he rebuked them for their sin of rejecting God and asked God to corroborate these words with a sign, which was done (1 Samuel 12:6-18).  Because of the sign of thunder and rain that God had sent, the people of Israel realized their sin and turned to God in repentance asking Samuel to “pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”  They must have been afraid and suffering from some form of self-guilt, because Samuel had to tell them, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.”  Here Samuel was making it clear to the people of Israel, “Yes, you did mess up!  Yes, you have disappointed God!  But even in this situation, God can and will take care of you!  Just follow His commandments.”  The Israelites needed a reminder that their God was a forgiving God but also a just God who expects holiness from His people.  They needed to get rid of their self-guilt and move on, and Samuel gave them a few key points of advice as they did this.

  1. Do not be afraid of God’s judgment any longer if you have repented of your sin. (vs. 20)

In vs. 20, Samuel said, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.”  The people knew they had wronged the Lord; the Lord knew that the people had wronged Him.  It was obvious, and what had happened had already happened.  There was no way to change the past.  There was no Delorean time machine to pull them back in time to fix the mistake that had been made.  All that could be done was to move forward from it and to the future.  They needed to repent.  They needed to turn away from sinning against the Lord again, but they definitely did not need to live in guilt and fear that God was going to be out there to get them every day of their lives.  Samuel wanted to remind the Israelites that though God is a just and holy God, He is also merciful and gracious, and for those who turn back to Him, He will forgive.  When we have realized our sin and turned back to the Lord, asking Him for the forgiveness of our wrongs, then we can be assured that He has forgiven us, and we are now in right standing with God.  We need not do anything else, for the work/payment for our sin was finished on the cross.  We need not fear for our Lord will no longer remember our sins, but instead says “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).  Psalm 103:8-14 tells us, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  God knows that we can make mistakes; He knows when we sin; but 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).  Our God is a forgiving God, and we need not fear Him if we have returned to Him.

  1. Do not turn aside from following the LORD after empty things that cannot profit or deliver (vs. 20, 21)

An important thing that was being emphasized in the last point was repentance.  When you have sinned and done wrong against the Lord, you need to repent.  And the first part of repentance is to turn away from your sin, to run from those things that are empty, and to stop turning aside from the Lord.  So much of the time, our guilt stays, because our heart stays longing for that sin.  We are still craving it; we are still chasing after it; we are still living in it.  And if so, we deserve to continue to feel that guilt, but if we have truly repented, we will stop chasing after things of vanity and instead follow the Lord.  When Christ forgave the adulteress in John 8:1-11, He did not just say, “I don’t condemn you”; He followed it up with a “Go and sin no more.” If you desire to be rid of that guilt and shame, then you need to turn away from the sin that has caused it.  Why would you still wallow in the same mud that made you dirty in the first place?  Run away from those things.  Be like Agur in the book of Proverbs (30:8) that asked the Lord to remove far from him falsehood and lying or like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:37 who asked the Lord to turn his eyes from looking at worthless things.

  1. Serve the LORD with all your heart. (vs. 20, 24)

The second part of repentance is an important part that most people forget and that is to turn to the Lord.  People can often feel sorry for their sins, and they can even turn away from them, but that is still not repentance.  Repentance is making a complete 180 degree turn, which means that you do the exact opposite of what you were doing before.  Instead of sinning, you need to serve the Lord with all your heart.  When we are living in sin, our hearts are not fully given to the Lord; a part of us belongs to sin, to ourselves, to our pride; but when we have truly repented, then all of it should belong to Him.  God demands that we love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths (Luke 10:23) and to show that love, we must serve Him.  The problem the people of Israel had was that they got caught up wanting a king so badly, that even when warned that they would be in service to this king, they still pursued it.  Rather than serving the Lord, they’d rather serve a king.  These people needed to change their hearts and serve the Lord – to give Him all of who they were.  And we as Christians need to serve God with all our hearts.

  1. Remember that the Lord will not forsake you and has promised to keep you as His child (vs. 22)

Sometimes, our guilt stays, because we think that the Lord no longer sees us as His children.  We feel like we have committed such an egregious sin that the Lord no longer wants us as His kid.  I know I’ve felt that way before when I got a bad grade in school.  I was so afraid that my parents would tell me I was no longer fit to be their child, that I was a disappointment, that I would be rejected by them.  But it was never true.  They always still loved and cared for me.  The same is true of the Lord.  Our Father cares for us and will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  He is not fleeting or flighty with His words and promises but will do exactly what He says.  He doesn’t do it because of how good we are, but for “His name’s sake.”  Our God is a faithful God who keeps His covenants (Deuteronomy 7:9).  If you have given your life to Jesus Christ, even when you have sinned, He will still see you as His child.  Ephesians 1:5 tells us that we have been adopted into the family of God, and just like in Roman times, when a child was adopted, the adopter could never disown the adoptee.  He could still disown his biological son, but he could never disown the person he had chosen through adoption for his family.  God has adopted us and will never forsake us.

  1. Seek out people who can pray for you and instruct you with good counsel (vs. 23)

In vs. 23, Samuel said, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”  Samuel was letting the people know that he would never cease to pray and to teach the people of Israel, helping them to go where they needed to go.  After we have fallen into sin, one of the easiest things to do is fall back into the same sin.  When we try to fight it alone, try to do it on our own, try to clean up our own messes – that is usually when we fall again.  Instead, we need to seek godly counsel, fellow Christians, who can pray for us and call us out when we have sinned.  Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  It is much harder to fall into sin when you are accountable to another person for that sin.  So seek others who can pray for you and who can call you out when you are slipping.  Rather than trying to hide and keep your pride, confess your sin and have others help you fight back.  We are called to bear one another’s burdens, so get some help.

  1. Only fear the LORD (vs. 24)

Though this may sound opposite to the first point, where it says “Do not be afraid,” it is not the opposite at all; rather these few words, “Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart,” direct the people’s heart to the right thing to fear.  Though they were to not be afraid of the judgment of God, they were called to fear and respect the Lord their God.  A healthy respect for a person will help keep you from disappointing them.  I know that my fear of my parents has helped me to be more careful with the way I speak and act with them.  I know that my fear of them has also helped me to do better at school and work and other things.  How much more should we respect the Lord our God, and seek to please Him.  There is only one thing we need to fear (not be afraid but respect) and that is the Lord our God.  He is a just and holy God, and we should never take that lightly.  Though He loves us, though He has forgiven us, though He has shown us His grace and mercy, He is still holy and righteous and will repay the evil for their sin.  So fear Him, for those who take Him lightly will pay the price.  Also, remember that He is the only one to fear.  The Israelites feared Nahash the Ammonite and that is what caused them to seek their own king.  They were afraid of other things rather than fearing the Lord.  We must not be afraid of those who may be offended by our repentance or afraid of those who may be hurt by our choosing to turn from our sin, but instead we must fear one Person only – our God.

  1. Remember all the great things God has done for you (vs. 24)

To conquer self-guilt, we must also take the time to remember all the great things that He has done for us.  We must remind ourselves of His blessings.  It is like the famous hymn Count Your Blessings.  It says that “when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,” you need to “count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”  God has done so much for your life.  He has given us health and safety.  He has given us the opportunity to come and worship Him.  He has allowed us to be a part of His family.  He has given His Son to die for us.  How can we wallow in the self-pity and self-guilt of something He has forgiven us for, when He has done so much for us.  Instead take joy in His love and grace.  More than that, let this reminder of God’s blessings, drive you to seek and follow Him.  Samuel told the people of Israel to “consider what great things He has done for you,” after He told them to “only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart.”  He said this right after to let them know that the reason they should fear and serve God is because He has done all this good for them.  He was asking them to use gratefulness and thankfulness to drive them to obedience.  We should do the same.

  1. Remember the consequences of turning towards sin (vs. 25)

Lastly, Samuel reminded the people that if they were to continue to live in their sin that judgment would come.  Even though we have been forgiven and no longer need to live in our guilt and shame, we must remember the consequences of our sin.  Sin will always have a price, and knowing how expensive and heavy that price is will help us to keep away from it.  So an important practice is not to beat yourself up over sin that has already taken place, but to remember the consequences of it and use that remembrance to drive you away from it.  It is like fire.  Once you’ve gotten burned, you don’t put your hand to the fire any longer.

God has forgiven us.  God has shown us His mercy and grace.  God has washed our sins away.  All we have to do is turn our hearts to Him.  We need to repent of our sin and give our lives to Him as Lord and Savior.  He paid for everything we did on the cross.  He gave His life in exchange for us.  So for those, who have yet to receive Him, don’t be afraid that you need to be perfect to find forgiveness, for He says, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He is standing at the cross with open arms waiting for you.  For those who have and have fallen, return to Him, repent of your sin, and stop wallowing in shame and guilt, for He has forgiven you.  He took Peter who betrayed Him and made him a leader of the early Christian church.  He can do so for you.  And for those who are in the right standing with God right now, rejoice in it.  Rejoice in the forgiveness He has given you before, and let that drive you to continue to run from sin and towards Him.

Sermon – It’s Time to Make a Decision

John 3:16-21 – “16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

With the exception of last Sunday, at the church that I attend, the preaching has been focused on one of the most well-known passages in the Bible – John 3:16-17.  The first sermon was focused on John 3:16, which is a verse that everyone has come to know and love, because it is one of the key verses in the Bible that show us how much God loves us.  The point of the message was simple and direct – God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place and that if we place our faith and trust in Him, we will not perish but have everlasting life.  That verse alone is packed with so much beauty, it could probably be considered one of the greatest love letters ever written.  Just take a few seconds to reflect on that verse before we move on – God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.  What parent would give up his child to save his enemies?  And not just enemies who are trying to make peace, but outright enemies that are continuing to fight and rebel against Him.  I don’t think I can even think of a story that shows this type of love.  The closest we can come to this is a story about a train switch manager, who brought his kid to work one day.  His job was simple – when the train came, he would flip a switch that would let down a bridge allowing the train to cross over the water unharmed.  While waiting for the train to come by, his child was playing by the bridge and got his foot caught in one of the heavy gears that would bring the bridge down.  In the distance, the train could be heard roaring towards the bridge – “Toot!  Toot!  Toot!”  The smoke billowing from the train’s stack could soon be seen in the horizon.  And yet during this whole time, his child was still stuck in the gears, yelling to his dad, “Help! Help!”  As the train approached, the father had to make a choice, whether he would allow the train to crash and give him time to save his kid or to flip the switch and allow his child to be crushed by the gears.  Making the most difficult and heart-wrenching decision in his life, the father flipped the switch and let the bridge down.  No one on that train knew the sacrifice that father made that day as they safely crossed the river.  This story is the closest we can probably come to understanding what God did in John 3:16.  But even in this story, the train wasn’t filled with the father’s enemies; they were just innocent people riding by.  So imagine how much love God had to have for us to give up His Son for us.  That is amazing love!

The second sermon that was shared was focused on the next verse – John 3:17.  Again the sermon was focused on the love of God, but unlike vs. 16 which focuses more on the individual, vs. 17 focuses on the whole world.  God sent His Son to save the world not to condemn it.  God wants every single person on this earth to come to a saving knowledge of Him.  While it may seem like by sending His perfect Son to live a perfect sinless life here on earth was God’s way of telling us, “I told you so!” that was not God’s reason for sending His Son.  His reason was simple – to save and to restore the relationship we had with Him before we sinned.  God was not looking to condemn but to restore.  God was not looking to judge but to forgive.  God was not looking to hurt but to love.  God wants to save us all.

So to continue on the trend of these two sermons, we will look at the rest of this discourse that Christ had with Nicodemus that night, covering vs. 18-21.

John 3:18-21 – “18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

The Most Important Decision of Your Life

John 3:16-17 are great verses of encouragement and evangelism, because they remind us of God’s love for us, but I think what most people often miss is the rest of this discourse which is just as important.  Vss. 18-21 is where Christ calls us to make a decision.  It is the defining point.  It is the place where you have all the knowledge to make a choice, and you now have to make it.  It’s like the moment, a person proposes to you.  You have all the knowledge of his love; the only thing left is to say “Yes” or “No.”  That decision changes the whole course of your life, and that type of decision is what is presented right here in our passage today.  More than anything else, this is the most important decision a person will ever make in his/her life – Do you accept the gift of salvation that Christ has given you, or do you reject it?  There is no middle ground of putting it off for another day, for it is clear from our passage today, you either choose to believe in Him and not be condemned or not believe in Him and be condemned already.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t turn to Him at a later date, because I will tell you that I gave my fair share of “No’s” before turning to Christ; but every time you say “No” you are still in that state of condemnation.  It is only when you choose to accept His sacrificial gift that everything changes – that God no longer sees you as condemned but as saved by the blood of His Son.  It is like the Israelites in Egypt the night of the Passover.  The firstborn child of every family was condemned to death by the 10th plague, but by the covering of the blood of a lamb on the lintels and doorposts of the house, God no longer saw condemnation but salvation.  But it all had to start with the marking of blood on the doorposts.  There had to be a trust that when God said that all it took was dipping the hyssop into the blood and marking the posts would save your child that you would do it.

That is what the word “believe” means in this passage.  It means to place your faith and trust in Him.  It means resting on the knowledge that Christ’s death on the cross was all that was needed to pay for the penalty of your sin and for the restored relationship you could have with God.  I actually did not understand what this truly meant until I grew more spiritually.  At first, I thought I had to go through some spiritual action of belief.  Like I had to force myself to gain this kernel of knowledge and make myself agree with it in every single way.  I thought I had to prove my belief by making some public stand.  I thought I had to show my repentance through my actions before God would take it seriously.  But over time, I realized that it wasn’t that difficult; it was all about surrender.  It was about letting God know that I knew that I could do nothing to earn my salvation and that I would rest in Jesus Christ and His promise to save me no matter what state of sin I was in.  Christ didn’t save me because of my repentance.  He didn’t save me because of my faith.  Christ saved me, because He loved me and all I had to do was accept that gift.  That is what is meant by believe – to rest in Christ and what He has done.  The rest of the things – repentance, the public witness, the proof of my salvation would all come with that belief, but they aren’t the focus.

By placing your faith and trust in Christ, you can be seen as sinless and spotless before God.  We are all sinners (Romans 3:23); no one would argue that.  But whether we will pay for our sin or allow Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to be our payment is up to us.  That is the decision vs. 18 gives us.  Trust and be justified or reject and be condemned.  In all honesty, I think the decision is simple.  There is no loss on your part.  There is no payment.  All it takes is simple surrender.  So the question is “Why are there still so many people who choose to reject this gift?”  I think there are three reasons for this.

Why Are You Rejecting This Gift?

  1. The first reason is probably the most understandable reason for why you would choose to reject this gift – Because you don’t believe it is true. For some of you, you may not have enough evidence yet to place your faith in a God you know nothing about.  And I can understand that.  I am a scientist.  I work in biological research, and for people like us, we need evidence.  We need facts.  We need data to support our theories and hypotheses before we believe them.  That is more than fair.  But what I am here to tell you is that there are facts and evidence that point to the truth of the Gospel.  We can spend countless of hours discussing the philosophical reasons why we should believe, the archaeological reasons why we should believe, and the scientific reasons why we should believe.  There are thousands of books focused on these exact topics.  So if the reason why you don’t believe is because you don’t know, then that can be easily solved through careful study of the Bible.  For those who are truly seeking God, God will reveal Himself to them.  He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).  If you really need to know more to believe, then God will gladly provide that.

But some people just choose not to believe, because they are too lazy to find more out.  With you, I plead that you get up and search.  I wouldn’t doubt that you have put effort in your life chasing your career or a significant other or some material possession.  You were willing to put in the time and work necessary to make those achievements, so why not put in even a little effort to seek something that will determine where you spend eternity?  Is it not worth just a little bit of your time before you discount it as ridiculous?

  1. The second reason why some people choose not to believe has nothing to do with the ability to believe but the choice to do so. This reason is given to us in vs. 19 – “And this is the judgment:  the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”  Some people choose not to believe, because they would rather live in their sin.  When you come to Christ for salvation, you are not just getting a “Get out of hell” free card, you are asking Him to free you from your sin.  This is why repentance goes hand in hand with belief.  Your repentance doesn’t save you, but you can’t get saved without it, because the purpose of salvation is the freedom from sin.  Some of you may think that your sin is worth an eternity in hell.  Some of you may think that your sin is worth a separated life from God.  I will tell you it is not.  Over time, you will realize that sin is not as great as it appears to be.  I can’t tell you how many times I chose to deliberately disobey God, only to find out that the consequences of that sin were not worth the momentary pleasure I received at that moment.  That darkness and enslavement is not worth it.  Why would you reject a God who loves you so much that He willingly died for you just because you want to have a short amount of fun in sin?  It is like trading true love for a one-night stand.  The life God wants to give you is filled with joy and love.  Though it may be a struggle at times in this world (that I will not deny, because the world is getting more wicked and hostile towards Christians), the life, hope, love, and peace He can give to you will sustain you through it.  No sin is worth your spiritual death.  No sin is worth rejecting the precious gift of God.  So run from the darkness and into the light, and you will realize that what you have been holding onto is nothing compared to the treasure you can have in Christ.
  2. The third reason why some people choose not to believe is found in the next verse – vs. 20 – “20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” Some people don’t want to be looked at as people who need God.  Like I said previously, to believe is to surrender to Jesus Christ.  And that can be one of the most difficult decisions a person has to make.  Being able to admit that you need God, that you are spiritually bankrupt without Him is a difficult place to come to.  I will admit that when I gave my life to Christ, I knew that I needed God to be saved, but I didn’t realize how badly I needed Him until I fell into one of my current struggles with sin.  It was then that I realized how spiritually bankrupt I was without Him.  This is the reason why some people are unwilling to turn to Christ, because they are embarrassed of what other people will think of them; so instead of turning to Christ and confessing their sins and turning away from them, they try to hide it.  But let me tell you something – you can never hide your sins from God.  He knows the sins in your life, and those sins one day will be exposed.  So instead of running from the light to hide your sins, run to it knowing that God will forgive you of them.  There is no verse that says that you have to tell the whole world what you have done; all that is required is that you admit that you have sinned before God and that you want to turn away from them and to Him.  And by doing so, God will change your heart, change your attitude, change your life, so that what is seen is not sin, but the wonderful work He has done in you (vs. 21 – “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”)  Do not let your shame and guilt prevent you from coming to God.  Come just as you are, for He will take you in whatever state you are, for He loves you.  Forget your pride and surrender to Him.

Today you have been reminded of God’s love for you.  This love and salvation is available to you today.  The question I leave you with is the decision that Christ is presenting before you now – “Believe and be justified” or “Reject and be condemned.”  There is no good reason you can give for rejecting this precious gift, but the choice is still yours.  Make a decision today, for you know not what tomorrow may bring.