Month: September, 2014

“The Gift of Humility”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is intelligent, kind of esoteric and very, very bright.

He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it.
One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair.
The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, this had never happened in this church before!) By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.

About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, one of their elder’s and oldest members is slowly making his way toward Bill.

Now the elder is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and
a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do.

It takes a long time for him to reach the young man. The church is utterly silent, except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the old man does what he has to do. And, in shock, they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t feel alone.
Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister gains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.

In his humility, the actions of this man spoke louder than any words could ever do. In his wisdom, he saw a purpose greater then himself and he acted upon it.

In our continuing series on the gifts of God, we come to the gift of humility. Now, when we speak of humility, rarely does the world consider it a gift, but it is in every way, because it is in humility that we find ourselves the closest to God.

After all, it was because he humbled himself in the most humiliating way on the cross, that we will be able to rise again with Him in the resurrection of all the saints. Christ lowered himself, in part, to show us the power and compassion of humility.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi in the humble setting of his own house arrest, as he waits for his meeting with Caesar at which time he will be told if he will live or if he will die.

You see, Paul was all too familiar with the gift of humility, he was humbled himself by Christ on the road to Damascus. Once a powerful man with the power to condemn Christians, he was made to humble himself as he defended them.

The Bible is God’s textbook of how we are to live our lives to His glory and in verses 3 & 4 of our text He advises us through Paul to, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Our worldly way of thinking is to take care of number one and to avoid things like humility that might give the appearance of weakness. No room for the feeble, the man who dies with the most toys wins. But it is very different with God, in fact, He asks us to be the opposite. He said in last weeks Gospel lesson, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

As I was writing this, Kevin and Mary Reese texted me an illustration that I think works perfectly here: There once was a king who was discontented. In fact, he was so anxious, he couldn’t sleep, rest, or think. He called his wise men and asked them what he could do. One very old and very wise man said, “Find a man in your kingdom who is content, then wear his shirt for a day and a night, and you will be content.” That sounded like a good idea to the king, so he ordered some of his servants to find such a person. Days blended into weeks before his servants finally returned. “Well,” said the king, “did you find a contented man?” “Yes sire, “his servant replied. “Where is his shirt?” asked the king, “Your majesty, he didn’t have one.” The king learned that contentment was not found in “things,” it was found in humility.

I think we can all admit that we are sometimes very selfish. I know that I am because often I want things my way and I want them now! The whole idea of putting others before myself in humbleness is foreign to me sometimes. I get lost in the dog eat dog world hoping to get my bite.

But imagine if we were all able to act in humility in all things. It would be then that we would understand the great gift of humility for what it is. If each of us thought of others before ourselves, think of the problems that would be solved in this world. I’m not talking about political correctness, I’m speaking of humility still fighting for what is right and correcting what is wrong.

And our perfect example is Jesus Christ Himself. Paul goes on in verses 5-8, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

 

I’m intrigued with the word “grasped”. The Greek here is a rather dynamic term meaning to “plunder” or to “retain by force.” It brings to mind something seized after some sort of victory. In other words, by my actions something has been overcome and I now enjoy that which has been taken in conquest. Though Christ is in His very nature, all-powerful, God Himself, He did not “grasp” the equality that was already His.

He did not put himself above man, demanding others treat Him with actions befitting a person of His rank. Instead He humbled himself in obedience to the Father.

 

The application is easy. As Christ did, we are also called to humble ourselves before God and before man. Thinking we have done what it takes to earn it, is folly. To think it is something to be grasped is ignorant. Only in humility can we find ourselves one with God. Let the example of humility that Jesus has shown be your guide.

Mark 10:42-45 reminds us of a time Jesus called His disciples together and said, “…“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all, for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

In humility we are all called to live as servants to mankind, just like Christ did. In John 13 we see one of the most powerful examples of the servanthood of Christ, “When he (Christ) had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Again, this is so foreign to worldly values. It goes against everything we hear in our secular lives.

To Christ, slavery is a strength and humility is a gift. If we are to understand the full measure of God, we must do it in complete surrender with humbleness and obedience.

 

As I wrote this sermon I wondered, how obedient can we get? Will we continue to be obedient if things don’t go our way? Will we show humility when we are challenged? Will we obey God’s Word even it if brings us hardship? Will we defend the faith if it may cost us something, even our very lives? Just how humble am we willing to get?

 

Our humility is shown in all of these situations. In each instance we have the opportunity to humble ourselves before God. And when we do, it is in that humbleness that we will find our reward.

 

So, how are we to develop this level of humility that is demanded of us? We are told in verses 12 and 13 of our text. It says, “Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

 

It is God who gives the gift of humility. Only through Him can we find the strength to put others before ourselves in a world that teaches us the opposite. It is not something we can earn, it is something that is given.

In humility we are both justified and sanctified. In justification we are found not guilty. We are cleansed of our sin by the blood of Jesus Christ so that, in humility, we might be in relationship with Him.

 

It is in sanctification that we are transformed into the image of Christ, carrying on as humble servants the same way He has done. It is a lifelong process, full of peaks and valleys, of submitting ourselves before God, living each moment according to His will for us, until we’ve finally reached a place where His will and our will are the same.

 

God is constantly at work, helping us to “work out our salvation.” This means that we play a part of it even though we have no way to justify it by our actions. And this has to be done in all humility and obedience.

In Verses 14-15 we read, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

 

At the beginning of this sermon we heard a story of a great example of humbleness portrayed by a wise old man. In His wisdom and humility, he had learned to put others before himself. If Redeemer has that same opportunity one day, I pray that someone would do just the same and my guess would be that many would.

So with this lesson of humility now on your hearts, how is it going to change the way you live? What is God whispering in your ear this very moment in hopes that you are listening? What actions are you now willing to take from this reminder of how God wishes you to lead your life? What task are you willing to take on in humility, that by your example, you might become a light of Christ in the world?

 

I challenge you all to make a difference by putting others before yourselves. I dare you to become the humble and vulnerable person Christ had to become so that He could fulfill the Father’s request. I urge you to write down one concrete action you can take this week to develop this attitude of humility.

 

Humility has been delegated to the weak according to the world, but we as Christians know it is by the great gift of humility given to us by God Himself by which we will be saved. Thank you, Jesus, for showing us the value of humbleness that we may take on the form of a servant according to Your will. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions Philippians 2:1-18

Bible Study Questions Philippians 2:1-18

How is humility a gift?

 

What does Paul mean by “encouragement in Christ?” Why is this encouragement the place where Paul starts his teaching about humility?

 

Verses 2-5 speak to our identity in Christ. What characteristics does Paul say identifies a group of believers…more specifically a local church like Redeemer?

 

Why is it important for Paul to connect our attitude and actions to the actions of Christ?

 

Why is it important that your life gives evidence of these character traits?

How do verses 3-4 help us to understand the nature of humility?

How did each of Christ’s actions illustrate humility and a concern for the interests of others? Verses 6-8

If Jesus is by very nature God, why does verse 6 talk about grasping at equality with God?

In what sense did Jesus “empty” himself? Why did he need to empty himself in order to become a human?

In your own words, describe God’s response to Jesus’ humility. Verses 9-11.

Paul says you are to “work out your salvation” because God “works in you.” How are these ideas related?

Can you think of incidents in Jesus’ life where he was obedient, even though it endangered his life?   Luke 22:39-46

How could grumbling and questioning in the Philippian church keep it from shining as God’s light to the unbelievers in Philippi? How does it affect the church today?

If churches do NOT listen to Paul’s command and urging in this passage (verse 14), why are they prevented from effective outreach to non‐Christians?

Society is described in verse 15 as “crooked and perverse”. How specifically have you seen this to be true in your own experience?

How can we “shine like stars” in the dark, crooked, and morally depraved universe (vs. 15) without coming across as “holier than thou” to those who aren’t disciples of Jesus?

“The Gift of Grace”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father…

Please pray with me….

Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Person asked a young accountant who was fresh out of school, “What starting salary were you thinking about?” The Accountant said, “In the neighborhood of $100,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.”

The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of 5 weeks vacation, full medical and dental, Company Retirement Fund to 50% of salary, Executive Share Option Scheme, Profit Related Pay and a company car leased every 2 years – say, a 5 series BMW?”

The Accountant sat up straight and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?”
The interviewer replied, “Yes, but you started it.”

At one moment, the young accountant thought he had hit the jackpot but soon after, he realized that some things are, indeed, too good to be true. At one moment he was amazed and in the next he was brought back to earth.

 

He should have known that this kind of generosity is just not how the corporate world works. In fact, it’s not how the world itself works. You rarely hear of someone winning a large amount of money and then giving it all away to those who might need it more. We’ve never heard of a prize athlete who earns a lucrative contract giving most of it away to others. Yes, there instances where someone does something so grand, but that goes against the worldly values most people aspire to.

To give such substantial contracts to new employees just doesn’t make good business sense. People just don’t start at the top where all the bells and whistles exist. To make it to the top, you either have to know the right people or impress the right people. Such generosity is just not normal to worldly people like us.

Henry Ford once said, “What is good for business is good for religion.” Well Henry, I’m not so sure. Sometimes business practices are completely opposite of what we have come to expect from God.

Take our parable this morning from Matthew for instance. At first glance we read it and agree that it doesn’t seem fair. That’s because we have been shaped by worldly values and have not fully grasped how the grace of God works.

Today if an employer hired people in the same way, there would be shouts of anger as people received the pay they had all agreed to. We are a works society and we expect to be paid according to our amount of works. It doesn’t matter that it’s in one of Jesus’ parables, it’s still unfair. The story makes some of us think back to when we had similar experiences and it sends a shock of resentment coursing through our veins.

So, when our final judgment comes, will God treat those who have lived their whole lives for Him the same as those who only came to Christ moments before their death? Will every Sunday go to meetin’ Christians be treated the same as Christmas and Easter only attendees? We understand that God’s ways are not our ways, but come on, isn’t it supposed to be fair?

In many third world countries, we see the same kind of hiring practices as shown in our parable. Each day people meet at a certain location waiting for someone to come and hire them because to not have work means no money for food. Usually the young and the strong are hired first and usually they receive a full day’s pay. If more people are needed then the employer might go back and pick the best of who were left. If it’s a particularly good day then even the lame and weak will eventually be hired.

In this way the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker. The strong think that its only right while the weak cry foul. For many of us work is something to be avoided but for these people their very lives in the next coming days depend on it.

We are tempted, when we read this parable, to believe that the one’s hired last are those who were the laziest. They would just lie around all day until they were ready to work. But I would guess that in Jesus’ time, the situation was much the same as we see in our third world countries of today.

Justice is when we get what we deserve, mercy is when we don’t get what we deserve and grace is when we get something that we don’t deserve. At first glance it seems that grace is not fair but that’s because we misinterpret what grace is and how God uses it.

God’s kingdom is not based on fairness but rather, it’s based on what we need. It’s based on grace. Sometimes we need justice sometimes we need mercy but all the time we need grace because, if truth be told, we all stand in line waiting for God to save us from ourselves. Grace is that thing that overlooks who we truly are and what we have done to deserve justice. It is grace that allows us to stand in line waiting in hope for God to bless us. Despite our failure to live up to God’s expectations, He graciously gave us His Son so that the last of us could be first.

I for one need all of God’s grace because I regularly fail. Every day, I’m like the old and weak waiting in line to be accepted and I know that if God does not decide to spread His grace to me, my very life will be in jeopardy both in this world and the next. Yet, no matter how weak I get, God’s grace shines through to strengthen me. No matter how old my actions get, through repentance God’s grace and forgiveness sustains me. I give praise to God that He never gives up and He always calls on me even though I stand in line feeble and flawed.

Our immediate reaction to a parable like this one gives proof that we are not always motivated by grace. Worldly values do not teach us of grace, they only teach us of fairness. We learn in this world that works are paramount yet God teaches us that works cannot save us. Romans 11:6 says, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Grace and works are actually opposed to each other and only one can save us, grace.

And the kind of grace we need for everlasting life can only come from God. To the believer God showers His grace over and over again. John 1:16 says, “From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” It is God’s pleasure to give His children His grace out of His love for us. Only God has the formula for salvation and no amount of works, no matter how fair or unfair they may be, can save us from what we truly deserve.

Last week we heard the story of forgiveness 70 times seven times. Even this is based on grace. Who deserves to be forgiven this much? It doesn’t seem fair. Yet God does not dispense fairness the way that the world does. The disciples had to live lives that seemed to be unfair. They were all persecuted and eventually martyred save John. Was that fair? Yet they sang to the glory of God all the louder. God’s people lived through hardship after hardship despite their faith. Was that fair? Yet now they stand in glory free from the world. Praise God he is not always fair, or we might get what we deserve.

And it is our response to this gift of grace that judges us. Do we cry foul to God when the world seems to favor the wicked? Do we see injustice when our unbelieving neighbor seems to be blessed with greater gifts then we are as a believer? Do we cry in anger when someone less deserving gets something we wished for? Do we lament over those who seem to lack morality and uprightness that seem to have it all? Is it fair to God when we expect Him to shower us with provisions simply because we see ourselves as more faithful than others?

God doesn’t play by those rules. The mathematics of grace is that everyone wins, everyone has an equal share of the kingdom. Jesus tells us the parable of the workers to show us that there is no formula by which we might be rewarded. God simply does not work that way. Do you think God loves me more because of what I do compared to what you do?

If so, you don’t understand God and His grace. He could not love me more just as He could not love you more. The reason he sent His Son had as much to do with you and it does with me. Is that fair? Probably not by worldly standards but praise God, He doesn’t live by those rules.

For those who have lived their lives in faith there is the reward of living a faithful life rich with the confidence that it brings. So many in this world still do not see how a life in Christ can be more rewarding because they don’t understand the reward. To them grace is for the weak but, as believers we know that it is by grace that we are strengthened in hope. For those who have come to faith later in life the reward is the same and God’s grace is no less wonderful, they only regret the years they had spent in ignorance, unaware of the gift.

We all are workers in God’s vineyard. Some have toiled their whole lives under the guidance of Christ while others have only recently been brought in. Everyone is invited to share in the glory and it is our spiritual duty to invite even the old and weak to the vinery.

It has been said that Christianity is really a religion of grace, and that is certainly true. But, even so, grace is not well understood because it seems foreign in many ways to our worldly ears and it is often not totally believed. We use the word a lot but we don’t really know what it means and we don’t particularly know how to find it.

We find it simply in the asking. That’s all. It’s really that simple. The more you feel your need for grace the more you are a candidate for it. You will not be turned away and it’s never too late. Even the ones who join the Vinery last get the full measure. This is the wonder and shock of God’s grace and to many it just doesn’t seem fair. It is not of this world for no one in the world would have thought of something so amazing as grace.

When we get to heaven there will be no contest, no favorites, no losers. No one will have to live up to God’s expectation for grace because there is no one who could possibly earn it. It is given freely from a God who loves us with a love we could never comprehend.

When we look back and see what we were before, when we see the filth that God has saved us from, when we recall how confused by the world we had become, God’s grace will be all the more beautiful. We will then know the full scale to which this free gift of grace was so vital. Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Amen.

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 20:1-16

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 20:1-16

What is fair?

What is the difference between fairness and judgment?

Why do we sometimes feel cheated?

Is there a time in your life when it felt that God wasn’t being fair?

Some argue that this parable concerns the inclusion of outcasts, or Gentiles, into the kingdom. Do you agree?

What is our human concept of fairness all about?

Does our reward change based on the level of the sin? Romans 3:19-20, 6:23

Does our reward change based on the level of our righteousness?

What happens to our thought process when we put a value on righteousness? Isaiah 64:6

How does Thessalonians 3:10 compare to our parable? Why? (Verses 8-13)

Can you think of any other places in the Bible where people felt that they weren’t being dealt with fairly? Exodus 16:2-15; Numbers 16:41-42

What does God say about grumbling? Luke 5:30-31; 1 Corinthians 10:9-10; Philippians 2:14-15

Why should I go the extra mile for someone if my reward is the same as someone who doesn’t do much of anything? Why do good if God accepts us already?

Was this some kind of new teaching that Jesus was giving them? Deuteronomy 24:14-15

Now that we have discussed it more, what point is being made by the saying in verse 16? Matthew 19:28-30; Luke 14:7-14

How can you make God’s generosity a model for you own life?

ALL OF GRACE
Matthew 20: 1-16

Like sun that shines the same on every face,
both vineyard and the work, the owner’s gift.
We learn at end of day it’s all of grace.

Upon the earth each person has their place
as surely as each star its nightly shift,
and sunlight falls the same on every face.

By mercy we’re all winners of the race;
by mercy every lowly gets a lift:
by mercy do we learn it’s all of grace.

God’s vineyard spans the globe; there’s lots of space
for all who hear God’s call to heal its rifts
like sunlight chasing pain from every face.

Let none begrudge the width of God’s embrace
which reaches from the safe to those adrift.
We learn at end of day it’s all of grace.

Until our human love can keep apace
with God’s, may labor be a sharing of the gift
that shines like sun the same on every face.
At end of day, we praise: it’s all of grace.

 

“The Gift of Forgiveness”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

This sermon was not easy for me to prepare because I had become comfortable in my ignorance. You see, there is another pastor who I used to be very close to, in fact, he was one of my dearest friends. I looked up to him in many ways because he was so good at thinking out of the box in ministry and together, we enjoyed each other’s company. We were blessed to do some pretty awesome ministry together. He was the activities director of our Christian’s Theater youth camp and the president of the board of directors for a ministry I was the executive director for. We were very close and had many things in common to share together. And then things changed.

My friend did some things that became very hard for me to forgive him for but I can honestly say I did, first once and then twice. But then came the third and to this day I have no idea of what really happened. Whatever it was, we both pretty much disowned each other. I shook the dust of my sandals determined to rid myself of any memory of him. That was over four years ago and we haven’t spoken since.

Recently we found out he has ALS and is not doing well. I have since reached out to him but he hasn’t responded. I pray for him every day and kick myself for being so stubborn as to not forgive a third time.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my reluctance to forgive someone. I often hear of that one person or that one relative or even that one sibling who someone is not willing to swallow their pride for and forgive. Many times the unforgiveness has lasted so long that they have forgotten why they were even upset, but instead of taking the admirable path toward forgiveness we choose the selfish way of unforgiveness.

Too many of us continue to live in broken relationships out of pride. Our own arrogance and conceit have overwritten the advice that Christ has given to forgive seventy times seven. It could be that we fear a response that will only make things worse or maybe it’s because we think that if we do, we might have to admit more fault then we’re willing to confess. Maybe we fear we’ll be rejected again or maybe we fear more somehow appearing weak. Whatever the reason, we never allow the wound to heal and it just festers in the ugliness of vanity.

The chances are great that many if not most of you are guilty of the same things I am guilty of. Many of you have relationships with others that have become shattered because of the lack of forgiveness.

Many of you have forsaken that same advice that I have from Christ. We have no excuse and we all stand guilty of the charges against us. We fail to remember our own sins and our own faults because we have chosen to focus on the faults of others.

Martin Luther speaks on this very topic, He says, “God sees far more defects in me then I can see in other people; therefore I shall be glad to be quiet and forgive if only God also forgives me and is quiet. But this lesson is never learned. In this world one brother is forever rebuking another because of a very small piece of dust in his brother’s eye, while he himself has a large beam in his own eye. For where you have one charge against your neighbor, God has thousands upon thousands against you for never having kept His commandments as long as you have lived and for having sinned against them in many ways. This you do not see, but want to fall upon your neighbor and destroy him because of a single bad word. Shame on you! Are you so keen-eyed and still cannot see this large beam”?

I’m sure you have your reasons and I’m sure your reluctance to forgive even makes sense to you in some way. It may even be likely that many would agree with your actions. But I ask you to imagine yourself in front of Christ using those same reasons and sensibilities. Imagine yourself before Christ trying to justify the reasons for your broken relationships. What would He say? Would He say “Well done good and faithful servant”? Or would Jesus say, “Your reasons are worthless, pride has no place here, forgive your brother as you would want forgiveness from me.”

Our God is a God of relationship and this is one way we have been created in His image as we enjoy relationships with Him and others He has chosen to place in our lives. He has given us every reason to forgive our brother and modals it by His own example of forgiveness for the many sins we have committed. Just as our relationship with God is one of endless forgiveness, so should our relationships with others be. When Jesus told His disciples to forgive seventy times seven times, He meant that we should forgive always and in every way.

So what can be done by us as the heirs to God’s kingdom and Children of the Most High? What needs to happen when we find ourselves in broken relationships in this world? Well, first we have to realize that our broken relationships are the result of bowing to the will of a broken world. Our reluctance to forgive is evidence that we are still affected by the original sin we inherited from the very beginning of time. It didn’t start with the first time someone hurt you, it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

Then, blame was shifted from the serpent to the woman to the man and it has evolved to the point where it effects every living person today. We are still reluctant to face our own sins so we continue to shift the blame to others thinking that if I can just bury this one relationship then all the blame that rests with us will be buried with him.

Can you imagine the argument between Adam and Eve as they found themselves kicked out of the Garden? “Why did you listen to the serpent Eve?” “Where do you get off blaming me Adam?” and so it goes from generation to generation, each too prideful to forgive and forget.

Secondly, we have to be sensitive to the fact that every broken relationship involves hurt on both sides. It doesn’t matter who is really at fault, a broken relationship, born out of the lack of forgiveness, born out of sinful pride does neither party any good. Like Adam and Eve, we focus on who is at fault. But if we think back to that part of Scripture, we find that God has no patience for the blame game.

Now if anyone had reason to hold a grudge or to be unforgiving, it was Joseph in our Old Testament lesson. More than this, he eventually had the power to exact any kind of revenge he wished upon his brothers even to the point of condemnation and execution and no one would have even batted an eye.

Yet Joseph lived by the example of the grace He had witnessed from a God who cared. Because of this he refused to judge as if he were somehow replacing God’s ability to do the same. Instead, He acted as God would have acted and he forgave his brothers. Joseph, I am sure, had feelings of retribution and revenge, but he didn’t let these dark feeling overshadow the light of God.

Instead, Joseph grasped the hope that only God can provide and because of this his relationship with his brothers and his father was restored. He was the better man in the end and the forgiveness he gave served as the balm to heal his broken relationships.

I’m sure that is a place we would all like to find ourselves in, the place where forgiveness is easy and healing is offered. So what can be done by Christians to reach that place that seems to be so elusive? We must recognize that we are sinners just like everyone else, there are no exceptions no matter how hard we try to reason sin away. None of us are better than any other. We all have fallen short and none of us has grounds to blame the other.

This is why Jesus gave us the parable of the two slaves in our Epistle lesson so that we might see the extent to which we are indebted to our gracious God.

The king is God who is gracious enough to heal our sins and forgive our debt, even though this debt deserves nothing but our very condemnation. Just like the person sitting next to you this morning, you have a debt which could never be repaid. The sin that we focus on from someone else is rendered almost insignificant when compared to the charges God has against us, yet we dare fix our eyes on the things we find unforgivable from others. If you do the math in the parable, you’ll begin to see the extent of God’s forgiveness of our sins.

A denarii was equivalent to a day’s wages, therefore the amount the second servant owed the first was equal to 100 days of pay. The amount the first servant owed the king was equal to nearly 183 million days worth of wages, a debt that could never be repaid. It’s no wonder our unforgiving nature grieves God.

Yes, our blame is all too obvious. We deserve nothing because we have continued to live in our sin, giving in to every whim and temptation. But we have a loving God who didn’t want to leave us with a debt that is insurmountable, so He, out of His goodness and mercy, gave us His only Son so that we could put the debt we owed on him. God gave us a way to settle our accounts out of His infinate grace and forgiveness. He continues to forgive us and to give us the strength to forgive others.

Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister who lived in the mid twentieth century, put it this way, “…………God’s forgiveness is not conditional upon our forgiveness of others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just Fair Warning, and in the second place our unforgiveness is among those things about which we need to have God forgive us the most. What Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride which keeps us from forgiving is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.”

So, don’t wait any longer. Call that person you have neglected out of pride, write to that person who has wronged you, sit down with the one who has deceived you and offer your forgiveness. Do whatever you have to, to make it right and I promise I will too. More than that ask for forgiveness from your own faults, even if it is simply the neglect you have shown, because as much as we might want to think otherwise, we bear just as much fault for every broken relationship we find ourselves in.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, both His forgiveness towards us and our ability to forgive others. It’s something we all cherish and, unfortunately, we use its value to hurt others by withholding it. Yes, forgiveness is sometimes very difficult, but sometimes the greatest gifts are great because they are the hardest to give.

The greatest act of forgiveness was witnessed that day when Christ was lifted high on a bloody cross. Despite our sins, despite our guilt, God gave us His Son to pay back the debt we had no hope of ever repaying. Jesus Christ took our place so that our forgiveness would be complete. No more guilt, no more shame.

Let’s be known as a church that knows nothing else but the forgiveness we all cherish born out of love and made obvious in our actions. God forgave us so that He could be in full relationship with us, unencumbered by the weight of our many sins. May we be so gracious to others.

We will end in prayer using the same words sung in our sermon hymn:

Forgive our sins as we forgive, You taught us, Lord, to pray;                     But You alone can grant us grace to live the words we say.

How can Your pardon reach and bless the unforgiving heart                   That broods on wrongs and will not let old bitterness depart?

In blazing light Your cross reveals the truth we dimly knew;                       What trivial debts are owed to us. How great our debt to You!

Lord, cleanse the depths within our soul and bid resentment cease;   Then bound to all in bonds of love, our lives will spread You peace.

Amen

 

“The Ultimate Authority”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our father…

Please pray with me…

Little Johnny was going to public school and was doing very badly in math. So, knowing that parochial schools often offered better training in math, his mother decided to put him in a Catholic school. When she got his report card at the end of the term, his marks in math had improved tremendously. When she asked why, he replied, “When I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they meant business.”

I remember Mrs. Zerr, my fourth grade teacher. We all thought she lived in a house with the blinds pulled shut because she didn’t seem to like life very much. She was usually very strict and matter-of-fact and rarely smiled. The few times we saw her with a smile on her face were when we were leaving for the day.

But, as I look back, I remember so much more of what she taught us because she demanded perfection. She really cared that we knew what we needed to know before we went to 5th grade and I think all the kids knew this. She expected us to behave and to learn. I have only respect for her now.

Mrs. Zerr was one of the first authorities I ever had to deal with in such a way. There were times that weren’t as good as others, but she always demanded respect and usually received it because we knew she cared.

Our New Testament lesson deals with this very topic. As much as Christ criticized many in authority, including the leaders of the faith at that time, He demanded that those in authority be respected and obeyed. He knew that order depended on it and for this God established them in their leadership roles.

All the principle authorities that exist have been ordained and established by God. The theory is really a fact as we learn first to obey our parents, then our teachers and others who God has placed in authority over us. It’s a matter of consequences. Example: If I do this , then I will be punished, fined, scolded, etc. If I don’t do this I’ll be left alone or rewarded. If we didn’t have authority figures, there would be chaos and death all around. Today, it is when people have no respect for a certain authority that chaos happens. God supports authority and there is no true authority except that which God has established because He is the ultimate authority.

God is the supreme power figure and we follow and obey based on our faith in Him. As such, God has expectations of us. He expects us to believe and obey. If no one had this kind of saving faith to lead us to follow His law, there would be no salvation, no Heaven for anyone, only death to look forward to. The world would be left on its own authority and we’ve all seen examples of how that would go.

Today, in many respects, authority, at least governmental authority, has taken a big hit. People’s attitude towards government has, in some cases, grown hostile because the respect it demands hasn’t been earned. We wonder what could possibly be God-ordained in some of the things we see from our leaders. How can it be God-ordained when such ungodly things seem to be happening?

It’s because we live in a world ruled by selfish ambition and sin. God doesn’t pre-arrange our lives or the lives of our leaders. He is not a puppet master. He rejoices in the good and experiences sorrow at the bad just like us, but He allows all because each experience helps us grow as long as we continue to put our hope and faith in Him.

It is a God-ordained thing to have a boss or a teacher or any kind of leader as long as the goal is the betterment of mankind. . We have all had to deal with them and some have earned our respect more than others but whether they have received our blessings or not, they have the backing of God Himself.

So God teaches us in His Word that we must submit ourselves to those He has placed over us. Consequently, those who defy authority are also defying God unless those in authority are motivated by evil and disunity. Those who choose to defy proper authority only bring judgment upon themselves when they do.

The law of the land is God-ordained and God expects us to follow its rules. As God was bringing order out of chaos in His creation He made man to rule the earth and even before there was sin there was the law. God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” At first Eve obeyed this law but then when tempted she lost her respect for God and placed her hope in something apart from God and those things that separate us from God are sin. Because the law was broken, sin was allowed to reign. God is the guardian of the law and has given us the law to direct us to faith and peace. When that law is broken, it leads us off the path toward heaven and towards doubt and disarray.

And just as we must pay for the laws we break on earth, so too will the breaking of God’s law demand retribution. When we rebel against God it will be held against us on judgment day. When we make our own way by disrespecting the authority that God has established, we will receive our due punishment. All authority must be respected because all authority in heaven and on earth is ordained by God. That is why God gave us 1 Timothy 2:1-4,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Paul asked Titus in the 3rd chapter of His letter to: remind (his congregation) to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Not only is all authority established by God but the governing authorities are meant to bring blessings from God. Paul says in verse 3 and into 4 of our text, For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.”

God only wants the best for us. He longs to bring us blessings so that our life might be full and He knows that to receive these to our greatest pleasure, we must live by the order He has established.

Too often we equate those in authority with things that we see as bad like corruption, demands, and high self-worth and to some extend that is true because Satan continues to be active and knows if he can reach the leaders then it will affect many. But that is not what God designed authority to be.

Take a moment to think of what those in authority provide. Our bosses provide us direction, our work provides us an income, our government provides us bridges and roads and schools, our police and firemen provide us protection. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the blessings when we see so much wrong with our world, but God provided authorities to bring us the blessings He longs for us to have.

 

Although we may not like everything the government does the fact remains that God uses everything under His feet to bless us. Paul wrote in his letters to the Ephesians (1:22-23) “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

When it comes to authority, Christ is the King of kings. God does not leave the final call to earthly authority because He knows that sin corrupts those in authority as it does everyone else. So He gave us His Son as His authority over all people, even kings and presidents. Because of what Christ has done, He has become our ultimate influence with the Father.

God established earthly authority but He knew it couldn’t end there. God expects perfection, in fact He can’t deal with anything less. So He gave all authority to His Son who took our judgment upon Himself through the perfect sacrifice.

Now God asks us to submit to His Son in heaven and we do this, partly, by submitting to the authorities here on earth. The greatest of gifts have been given to all those who put their faith and trust in Christ. The ultimate reward has been granted to all those who get their very direction from the authority that Christ has established.

With Christ, we have all the authority God can give us, authority in its purest form without blemish or decay. In Christ we have gained freedom from the shackles of sin and death because He has fulfilled the requirements of the law that we had no hope of satisfying.

And as Paul has written, the law has been fulfilled in love. Paul says in verses 8 and 9, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus obeyed the authority of His Father onto death so that the law could be fulfilled in love. It was love that brought Christ to the cross and it is love that will save us all who are under authority.

If we live with the love of Christ in our hearts, it will be shown in how we submit to authority. If we show that same love as a reflection of Christ in our lives, the law will be fulfilled because “love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Verse 10)

Lately, I have heard many people and read many things that show great disrespect for some of the authorities we must live under, and I am just as guilty as anyone. But, as we have been commanded, we must submit to the authority that God has ordained. This does not mean that we have to be satisfied, this is why God established the electorate. This does not mean that we must bow to those who promote the things that go against the will of God. But it does mean that if we see corruption or sin, we must be loving agents for change and if no ungodly things are present we must be good citizens and examples of Christ like love and understanding.

May God grant us the patience and wisdom to distinguish wrong from right and may He give us the wisdom and love we will need to follow His commands. As the ultimate authority, God has established those in authority over us to be a blessing. May that be realized and may all those who find themselves in authority over others understand the role they play in God’s plan and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen

Bible Study Questions – Romans 13:1-10

Bible Study Questions – Romans 13:1-10

Does this section of scripture tell us to obey every government all the time? 1 Peter 2:13-15

How should Christians relate to government? Verses 1,3,5,7

What reasons does Paul give in support of this position? Verses 1-6

What do these passages tell us about the Christian’s relationship to human government? Mark 12:17; Acts 5:29; Titus 3:1; Hebrews 11:31; 1 Peter 2:13-17

How should we react to an evil government?

What is Paul definition of a governing authority? Matthew 28:18; John 10:16-18; Acts 1:6-7; Colossians 2:8-10, 13-15

Why does God ask us to be submissive to authority in verse 5? Ephesians 5:17

 

Who has the ultimate authority? 1 Corinthians 15:25-28

 

What does Paul mean by the phrase “Owe no one anything”? Does this mean that we should never incur any kind of debt? (For instance, to purchase a house)

 

What words or phrases does the term “neighbor” bring to mind for you?

 

What makes someone our neighbor? Luke 10:25-37

 

In what way are you to love your neighbor? Exodus 20:13-17; Leviticus 19:13-18, 20:10; Proverbs 3:28; 11:12, 17:18; Matthew 5: 43-45; 22:36-39; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 4:25; James 2:8

 

Why does God ask us to be submissive to authority in verse 5? Ephesians 5:17

 

In what sense is love the fulfillment of the law? Matthew 22:37-40; Galatians 5:13-14