Cheap Grace At A High Cost

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Ephesians 2:6-10

After twenty years of shaving himself every morning, a man in a small Southern town decided he had had enough. He told his wife that he intended to let the local barber shave him each day. He put on his hat and coat and went to the barber shop, which was owned by the pastor of the town’s Baptist Church. The barber’s wife, Grace, was working that day, so she performed the task. Grace shaved him and sprayed him with lilac water, and said, “That will be $20.” The man thought the price was a bit high, but he paid the bill and went to work. The next morning the man looked in the mirror, and his face was as smooth as it had been when he left the barber shop the day before. Not bad, he thought. At least I don’t need to get a shave every day. The next morning, the man’s face was still smooth. Two weeks later, the man was still unable to find any trace of whiskers on his face. It was more than he could take, so he returned to the barber shop. “I thought $20 was high for a shave”, he told the barber’s wife, “But you must have done a great job. It’s been two weeks and my whiskers still haven’t started growing back.” Expecting his comment, the expression on her face didn’t even change. She responded, “You were shaved by Grace. Once shaved, always shaved.”

An Englishman went abroad leaving his much loved dog and servant home.
While away, the man received a cablegram from the servant with the message, “Your dog died.” The man was most distraught both at the news and the abrupt manner it was sent. Upon returning home he upbraided the servant for not breaking the news to him more gently. Confused, the servant asked his master how such news could have been delivered more gently. The man said he could have sent a first cable saying, “Your dog is stuck on the roof.” This could be followed the next day with the message, “Your dog fell from the roof and is doing poorly.” Later a third message could have said, “Your beloved dog has gone to his eternal reward.” Some time afterwards, the man went abroad again. While there, he received a cable from his servant, “Your mother is stuck on the roof.”

Grace was not just flowery words, grace was God’s action on our behalf. God’s love is an action toward us, not a reaction to us. God does not love us because we are so valuable; rather we are valuable because God loves us. The church is the one organization that refuses to accept qualification for membership, except one: I am in need of grace, and that grace through Jesus Christ. But there are a number of expectations once you are here. No qualifications, but expectations.

The truth is, most of us do not know how to handle God’s grace. We talk a great deal about being free, but freedom bothers us. A great deal of the fundamentalist movement today is a reaction to freedom. When the Israelites came out of Egypt they didn’t know how to handle the freedom they had been given. We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (Numbers 11:5) When Moses spent time on the mountain top, they built the calf to enslave themselves. After Jesus’ departure the Church had difficult understanding this grace. Does one have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian? Do they have to keep all the Laws? Do they have to be circumcised? The Church’s conclusion? For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.

We are uncomfortable with free gifts and feel we have to pay someone back for the gift. Ever receive an unexpected gift at Christmas time? If you are like most people, you will run out a buy a gift to give them back. Why? Because you feel beholding. We are appreciative of what God has done for us and we want to “pay God back.” How does one pay God back? Our way is usually to be good, obey the Laws and even be churchly.

The better we get acquainted with the grace of God, the less we are concerned about our authority in our home, and the less threatened we feel. The more we become acquainted with the grace of God, the more we want to model servanthood, the more we desire to affirm and release our wives–the less we want to dominate and control them. Grace loves and serves, it gives and forgives. Grace does not keep a record of wrongs and then dangle them over the one who has wronged us. Grace gives room–room to grow and to be, to discover and to create. Then we understand how we can love others as we love ourselves.

Grace is the favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves. It is thus apparent that God’s grace is to be distinguished from His mercy and love (Eph 2:4-5), But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. Mercy is therefore the compassion of God that moved Him to provide a Savior for the unsaved. Divine love is the motivating plan behind all that God does in saving a soul. But since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or His mercy cannot operate in grace until there is a sufficient satisfaction for sin. Grace thus rules out all human merit. It requires only faith in the Savior.

Although the grace of God is always free and undeserved, it must not be taken for granted. Grace is only enjoyed within the COVENANT-the gift is given by God, and the gift is received by man through repentance and faith. The greatest battle that Paul had was helping the Church to understand God’s grace. It is easy to get caught up in the Law. It is easy to be literalistic and miss the grace of Heaven. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin.
But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. When Titus was converted to Christianity, the Jewish Church wanted him to be circumcised. Paul’s argument was clear, the gift of God was not in obeying a set of Laws this couldn’t save us. God’s grace was the gift that needed embracing.

Grace is to be humbly sought through the prayer of faith. People who cannot handle grace retreat into legalism. The grace of God was supremely revealed and given in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the Pearl of great price that is worth selling everything to obtain.

This is a story about Aaron the tailor, who was rushing down the street, when he passed Moishe the banker, who calls out to him: “Aaron, where are you rushing!” “Moishe,” he says, “I’m going to the synagogue, to see the rabbi!” “Why?” Moishe asks, “it’s not Saturday!” “Moishe,” says Aaron, “a terrible thing has happened — my son’s become a Christian!” Moishe says, “Let me tell you a very funny thing: my son’s become a Christian!” “Oh no!” says Aaron, “then come with me to the rabbi!” So down the street they go, until they pass Sol, who owns the laundromat. Sol says, “Moishe, Aaron, what’s going on? Where are you going?” Aaron says, “Sol, we’re going to see the rabbi — our two sons have become Christians!” Sol says, “Come over here… let me tell you a very funny thing… my son is a Christian!” Aaron says, “Sol — come with us to see the rabbi!” They finally arrive at the synagogue, pounding on the door. The rabbi opens the door, and says, “Aaron, Moishe, Sol — why are you here? Go home… leave me alone… don’t bother me!” Aaron says, “Rabbi… we got a catastrophe in our families… our three sons have become Christians!” The rabbi says, “Come into my office!” He locks the door, goes behind his desk, and says, “Sit…” He buries his head in his hands, and after a long pause, he says, “Let me tell you a very funny thing — my son is a Christian!” “What are we going to do?” says Aaron, “we are lost!” Moishe says, “What are we going to do? Rabbi, you were our last chance! We are lost!” “No, we aren’t,” says the Rabbi. “Follow me!” They march into the synagogue, into the sanctuary, and the rabbi says, “Kneel!” They all kneel down, and the rabbi begins to pray: “Yahweh… God of Abraham; God of Isaac; God of Israel… What is going on? Orthodox Judaism is going down the tubes! Everybody’s becoming a Christian! Yahweh… give us a word… Yahweh… speak a word to us!” There was a LONG PAUSE……. and finally, God answers, “LET ME TELL YOU A VERY FUNNY THING!”

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The Church In Conflict With Culture

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First Corinthians 8

The standard typewriter keyboard exemplifies our resistance to change. The most commonly used keys are intentionally placed far apart from each other.
The arrangement on the keyboard was strategically placed to slow down the typist so that the early machines in the 1800s would not jam. About forty years later, the keyboard was simplified and called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. The most frequently used keys were moved to the primary row of keys. Typists could type as much as five times as fast with this keyboard. The innovation never took. The reason: even when things could be more efficient, we don’t want to change.

During a service at an old synagogue in Eastern Europe, when the Shema prayer was said, half the congregants stood up and half remained sitting. The half that was seated started yelling at those standing to sit down and the ones standing yelled at the ones sitting to stand up. The rabbi, educated as he was in the Law and commentaries, didn’t know what to do. His congregation suggested that he consult a house-bound 98-year-old man, who was one of the original founders of their temple. The rabbi hoped the elderly man would be able to tell him what the actual temple tradition was, so he went to the nursing home with a representative of each faction of the congregation. The one whose followers stood during Shema said to the old man, “Is the tradition to stand during this prayer?” The old man answered, “No, that is not the tradition.” The one whose followers sat asked, “Is the tradition to sit during Shema?” The old man answered, “No, that is not the tradition.” Then the rabbi said to the old man, “The congregants fight all the time, yelling at each other about whether they should sit or stand.” The old man interrupted, exclaiming, “THAT is our tradition!”

Any church that is alive will always be living on the edge of heresy. A religion that does nothing, gives nothing, costs nothing, suffers nothing – is worth nothing. A church on the move must confront reality and meet people where they are. Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination.
Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

“Today’s children are tyrants. They disobey their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. Do you know who wrote that? Socrates in 400 B.C.

So how does culture affect the Church? Things offered unto idols were the remainders of animals sacrificed to heathen gods. The problems, then, were these: Might a Christian partake of meat offered to a false god? Might a Christian buy and eat flesh offered to idols? Might a Christian, when invited to the home of a friend, eat flesh which had been offered to idols? Paul first sets forth general principles to guide the believer in these ticklish problems

Number One: Christians do possess knowledge, but it may be only superficial and incomplete. Knowledge is not sufficient for the solution of all problems, for by itself it is arrogant. Our knowledge of God is always incomplete. To love God brings both a knowledge of God and a sense of God’s knowledge of us. For example, in a palace everyone knows the king, but not everyone is known by the king. The second stage would indicate personal intimacy and consequent first-hand knowledge.

Number Two: An idol cannot really be a representation of God. How could wood or stone represent God’s incorruptibility? The apostle admits, however, that there are those called gods. It is the clean heart, and not clean food, that will matter; and the weak brother confounds the two

Number Three: From here to the end of the chapter Paul expounds the words, love builds up. Paul points out that meat in itself will not bring believers near to God. Paul warns the strong to take heed that their liberty does not prove a stumbling block to the weak. In other words, knowledge will not solve the problem. If Christ loved the brother enough to die for him, then the strong believer ought to love him enough to give up his right to eat certain meat. The decision to follow the path of love rests with Paul, not with the weak. The strong are to yield to love’s appeal voluntarily, not because the weak demand it Paul’s conclusion? Love, not knowledge, solves the problem. On moral matters, about which the Word has spoken, the Word is supreme. On morally indifferent matters, such as eating meat offered to idols, liberty is to be regulated by love.

Jesus said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10) Christianity is more then just a set of Laws. It is a way of life. It is every breath we take.

Ever wonder why the guy is supposed to carry his bride over the threshold?
It goes back to the Romans. They believed that good and evil spirits fought for control at a home’s entrance. For good to prevail, Romans felt you must enter a room with your right foot first. Thus entered the wedding scene when Romans concluded that a new bride in a highly emotional state might be careless and forget about the right foot stuff. To prevent possible tragedy, they decided it best for the groom to carry his bride. Maybe it is time we got off on the right foot with God as our foundation.

Confession Of Sin

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James 5:13-16

“So far today, Lord, I’ve done alright. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, selfish, or rude. But in a few minutes, I’m going to get out of bed and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot of Your help. Amen.” A man was on his deathbed with his wife maintaining a steady vigil by his side. As she held his fragile hand, her warm tears ran silently down her face, splashed onto his face, and roused him from his slumber. He looked up and his pale lips began to move slightly. “My darling,” he whispered. “Hush, my love,” she said. “Go back to sleep. Shhh. Don’t talk.” But he was insistent. “Honey,” he said in his tired voice. “I have to talk. I have something I must confess to you.” “There’s nothing to confess,” replied the weeping Betsy. “It’s all right. Everything’s all right, go to sleep now.” “No, no. I must die in peace, Betsy. I have been so unfaithful to you. I have even had affairs with your best friend and your sister.” Betsy mustered a pained smile and stroked his hand. “Hush now Jake, don’t torment yourself. I know all about it,” she said. “Why do you think I poisoned you?”

At Italy’s annual church fair this May, certain vendors will be promoting a high-tech confessional by which a parishioner can fax in his confession.
The $3,850 – $8,500 set up is targeted for “busy people” who can’t swing the time to stop by a church. This new confession box received sharp reviews from the Church. The critics said the new invention had “turned the confessional into a space-age telephone booth.” Traditional Catholic teaching holds that the sacrament of confession requires the presence of the priest and the person confessing.

The Bible uses confession two ways. The first way is to describe an open, bold, and courageous proclamation of one’s faith. The apostle Paul wrote: “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness and, with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Rom 10:9-10) The second way is an admission of sins. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven, writes James. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

The only contribution we make to our righteousness is our confession and admission of sin. Early one morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan, was taken. Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.

Sometimes the best way to convince people that they are wrong is to let them have their own way. “When he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy [for] which the merchant will sell all his goods. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis described his self-examination “with a seriously practical purpose,” on coming to Christ. He says that he “found what appalled me: a zoo of lust, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was Legion.” And like the demoniac, the cure for us is to run to Jesus, bow down before Him and allow Him to cast out whatever may possess us.

The Day Of Atonement

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Leviticus 16:15-17

Mark Twain wrote, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it.” It is unfortunate that most of us see ourselves as a composite of all our failures. When we look in the mirror we may only see a divorced person, or someone who lost his job, or an overweight loner. We are a people bent on perfection. We never do enough on the job. We never do enough for our children. We always do too little. Even though many of us can’t see beyond the failures, it is comforting to know this is not the way God views us. As a loving Father He looks past our failures. Can you imagine a loving father introducing his children by saying, “This is my daughter who stained the carpet with grape juice when she was two.” Or, “This is my son who broke a valuable vase last week.” If loving fathers don’t have a need to memorize their children’s failures, you can rest assured our loving Heavenly Father has no use for such memories either. When we accept God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ He forgets our failures.

God said, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34) Jerome was a Church Father who translated the Greek manuscripts into Latin and put the Bible in the language of the people.
He purposefully lived in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. One night while living in Bethlehem, Jerome had a dream that Jesus visited him. The dream was so real to him that he collected all his money and offered it to Jesus as a gift. The Lord said, “I don’t want your money.” So Jerome rounded up all of his possessions and tried to give them to Jesus. Again the Lord said, “I don’t want your possessions. Jerome then recalled the moment in his dream when he turned to Christ and asked, “What can I give you? What do you want?”
Jesus simply replied, “Give Me your sin, that’s what I came for, I came to take away your sin. Give Me your sin.” Jesus wants to give you the gift of eternal life in exchange for you giving Him your sin. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

My home church in New Castle, Kentucky, has some of the prettiest windows.
They are something like 150 years old. When they put the stained glass in, they used pure lead to line the glass. Pure lead doesn’t hold up well. When lead has the “impurities” it endures a long time.

Yom Kippur fell on Tuesday, September 18th, this year. The Hebrews called it Yom Hakkippurim or the Day of Atonement. The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22) The day was a high Sabbath, on which no work was done. All the people were to afflict their souls, i.e., to fast, under penalty of being cut off from Israel (Lev 23:27-32). It would appear that the sacrifices for the day were as follows: The ordinary morning sacrifice. The expiatory sacrifices for the priesthood, namely, a young bull. The sin offering for the people, a kid from the goats for Jehovah and another for Azazel. The festive burnt offerings of the priests and people and, with them, another sin offering. The ordinary evening sacrifice. After everything was ready, the high priest slew the bull, then filled a censer with burning coals from the altar of burnt offering, and, putting two handfuls of incense into a vase, bore them into the Holy of Holies. He poured the incense upon the coals, “that the cloud of incense may cover the Mercy Seat.” As the burning incense was a symbol of prayer, this covering of the Mercy Seat with the cloud of incense was a symbolic covering of the glory of the Holy One with prayer to God. After this, he slew the goat selected for a sin offering and did the same as with the blood of the bull, namely, sprinkled it upon and before the Mercy Seat. The two goats were similar in appearance (size and value); (the lots with which they were chosen were originally of boxwood, later of gold.)

Miracles can occur without special effects. It takes more doing for a holy God to forgive an errant person than it does to part the waters of a sea. A little boy was sitting on a park bench in obvious pain. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?” The boy’s replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he is hurting me!” How many of us handle forgiveness like this little boy? We endure pain for the sadistic satisfaction of believing we are hurting them more than us.

A couple from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Frank and Elizabeth Morris, son was killed by a drunk driver. They dedicated their lives to punishing the drunken driver who had killed their only child for more than two years. Driven by hatred, they monitored his every court appearance, followed him to the county jail to make sure he was serving his weekend sentence and watched his apartment to try to catch him violating his probation. “We wanted him in prison,” Mrs. Morris said. “We wanted him dead.” Tommy Pigage, the young man who caused the fatal crash still gets a lot of attention from the Morrises. They drive him to church twice a week and often set a place for him at their dinner table. Unable to find satisfaction through revenge, the couple recently decided to forgive Pigage and try to rebuild his life along with their own. “The hate and bitterness I was feeling was destroying me,” Mrs. Morris said, “I needed to forgive Tommy to save myself.” Since the Morrises made their decision to befriend him, Pigage, 26, has joined their church, quit drinking and become an active lecturer for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

People, it is time to be set free! A sinner has to repent first; otherwise forgiveness makes no sense. That’s why the lost must first realize they cannot rescue themselves; otherwise salvation makes no sense. That’s why love can only be complete if it is both given and received; otherwise it is either a bondage or a dependency.

It was Maundy Thursday. We were having the traditional communion service. The pastor suggested as we passed the bread and cup we whisper, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” As the service progressed, I concentrated on remembering the pastor’s words, and thought it would be nice to do this more often. Between me and the aisle was an old woman, not nearly so concerned with the pastor’s exact words, but thoroughly understanding their meaning. As she served me she said softly, “Take it. It’s for sinners.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

A Hope Worth Having

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Hebrew 6:16-20

Two atheists were flying in a single-engine airplane when it was struck by lightning. Faced with certain death, the atheists grasped for hope and turned to God. The problem they had was they did not know how to reach out to God. One said to the other: “So how are we going to have God help us if we do not know how to pray?” The other atheist answered, “Listen, I live next to a Catholic Church. I’ve listened to them pray many times. Let’s pray one of their prayers.” So he began with the Catholic prayer: “B-5 — N-14 — B-1 . . .”

Preparing to take religious vows, a young novice asked the oldest member of the order, “Father, do you still wrestle with the devil?” The elderly priest replied, “No, my son. I have grown old and the devil has grown old with me.
He does not bother me as before. Now I wrestle with God.” Surprised, the novice asked, “Wrestle with God? Do you hope to win?” “Oh no,” said the wrinkled old man, “I hope to lose.”

On December 10, 1997, Sam Donaldson asked Ted Turner what he wanted written on his tombstone. Ted Turner’s answer was: “I have nothing more to say.” The message of Easter is different than the message of Ted Turner. The message of Easter is the voice of God that speaks at the time of our death: “I have plenty more to say . . . and an eternity in which to say it.”

Hope and despair are a projection of the imagination. Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; Hope is an energy and arouses the mind to explore every possibility. In response to hope the imagination is aroused to picture every possible issue, to try every door, to fit together even the most heterogeneous pieces in the puzzle. After the solution has been found it is difficult to recall the steps taken — so many of them are just below the level of consciousness. I was amazed at the capacity of Vickie (my wife) to have hope as she battled cancer. Time and time again the treatments failed. But she would simply say, “OK, lets try a different one.” In the hope that a treatment would be found and be successful.

Patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, and patience with God is faith. The church is filled with people who started brilliantly their working career, but have lost their way in the Church. The energy goes to the priority. They are just holding on and frantically trying to survive.

Norman Cousins was a doctor who treated leprosy and edited the Saturday Review magazine in the early 1960s. After suffering a painful and prolonged illness, he became fascinated with ways to fight against the “pain intensifiers” that he identified as negative emotions which increase the amount of pain a person feels. Cousins concluded that if negative emotions could produce chemical changes in the human body, then positive emotions such as hope, faith, love, joy, will-to-live, creativity and playfulness could counteract the results of negative emotions and thereby reduce pain. Cousins began a research group at the UCLA medical school and studied the effects of positive emotions on health and pain. He surveyed 649 oncologists and asked them what psychological and emotional factors in their patients seemed important to them. Over 90 percent of those surveyed assigned the highest value to the attitudes of hope and optimism. Paul Brand writes about this research, “One of the most important gifts we in the health profession can offer our patients is hope, thereby inspiring in the patient a deep conviction that inner strength can make a difference in the struggle against pain and suffering.” Shortly before he died, Norman Cousins wrote, “Nothing I have learned in the past decade at the medical school seems to me more striking than the need of patients for reassurance . . . Illness is a terrifying experience. Something is happening that people don’t know how to deal with. They are reaching out not just for medical help but for ways of thinking about catastrophic illness. They are reaching out for hope.”

A father was working outside his home when he noticed his five-year-old daughter sprawled on the driveway, completely focused on the cement in front of her. Curious, he strolled up behind her to see what was so mesmerizing. There on the driveway a caterpillar was making its way across what, for it, was a vast expanse, fraught with obstacle and danger. The girl was absolutely spellbound, watching as the creature’s tiny legs and body propelled its slinky way to… well, wherever it was going. “Caterpillars sure are interesting, aren’t they?” the father said at last. The little girl didn’t take her eyes off the driveway. She just grunted: “Uh-huh.” They quietly watched for a few minutes, as the caterpillar struggled to negotiate a wide crack in the pavement. “Before too long,” the father noted, “he won’t have to worry about big cracks like that.” “Why not?” the girl wondered. “He’ll just fly over the top of it,” Dad said. For the first time, the little girl looked up. “Nuh-uhhhh,” she said. “Caterpillars don’t fly.” “You’re right — they don’t,” Dad replied. “But they turn into butterflies, and you’ve seen how well butterflies can fly.” One of these days this caterpillar will build a little home for itself called a cocoon, and then he’ll go to sleep for a while. When he wakes up he’ll crawl out of his cocoon, only by then he will have turned into a butterfly, and he’ll fly away.”
His daughter was suspicious. “Daddy, is this sort of like that tooth fairy story?” “No, sweetheart,” he replied, “this is true. “I was worried about him,” she said. “But if he’s really going to be able to fly, I won’t give up on him.”

All of us find ourselves occasionally limited. Sometimes we’re forced by circumstances to move slowly, struggling to overcome each new obstacle in our way. At other times we encounter limitations that are even more restrictive, binding us in a cocoon of disability, depression or hardship. At such times the easiest solution would be to simply give up. Only those who are capable of joy can feel pain at their own and other’s suffering. A person who can laugh can also weep. The laughter of Easter and the sorrow of the cross are alive in liberated Christians.

…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us….(Romans 5:3)

Hope accomplishes for the soul the same thing an anchor does for a ship. It makes our faith fast and secure. An anchor preserves a ship when the waves beat and the wind blows, and as long as the anchor holds, the ship is safe, and the mariner perceives no danger. So with the soul of the Christian.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt 7:24)

Hope distinguishes the Christian from the unbeliever, who has no hope.

A Chosen People

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Isaiah 40:20

Two women stood on the sidewalk in the middle of the night watching their church burn down. One said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you at church.”
Said the other, “Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen the church on fire.”

There was a fire one night at a convent and several retired nuns who lived on the fourth floor were trapped. They were praying for the Lord to show them a way out of the fire when one of the sisters screamed, “We need to take off our robes, tie them together and climb down to safety.” Later as they were recounting the event to reporters, they were asked if they were afraid of the crude rope breaking. “Oh, no,” they said. “You see, old habits are hard to break.”

Jesus said to the believers, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. (John 15:16) Gee, who is Jesus choosing for His Church? A bunch of sinners. Adulterers, Murderers, Pride filled hearts, Liars, Thieves, and Idolaters. Someone said to me, “You’re a good man, Bill McConnell.” And my mind flashes back to all the wrongs I have done. To all the opportunities missed. Yet, I have been choosing by Christ. I came out of the General Assembly meeting several years ago to meet protesters with signs that read, “Fag Church,” simply because the Church wanted an open Table for all sinners. They know nothing of what is going on inside and how difficult this process is for the Church. To the protesters to even address the issue of homosexuality is accepting the sin. To the Church, finding room at the table for people different from ourselves is welcoming all sinners that have been called by Christ. I drive down Kellogg and I see protestors on both sides of the issue. Both sides equally convinced that they have been called by God to be Christians. A young man from a large church in town confronted me about abortion. I told him that I was opposed to abortion but that I was just as convinced that the decision had to be made by the family and not by the state. He questioned my values. I asked him about a 16 year old girl that was a member of his church. She doesn’t come to church anymore since the birth of her baby. My values tell me that it is wrong to tell a girl that she can’t have an abortion and then for me to ostracize her from the community because she has had a baby out of marriage. The past couple of weeks have been very painful for me personally. I discovered that my home church in New Castle, Kentucky, has made a series of poor decisions. People that loved me and nurtured me growing up are now making some of the worst choices I have ever seen. I wrote one of the strongest three page rebukes that I have ever written to my home church’s elders. And as I stand here I know their response will be, “This is what God wants us to do.”

Regular churchgoers live longer than nonchurchgoers, a new study shows.
Researchers studied 21,000 adults for nine years, examining their religious behaviors and other factors, and published the results in the latest issue of Demography Magazine, the Washington Times said: People who attend church regularly could live up to fourteen years longer than those who don’t, the study showed. “Those who never attend church exhibit fifty percent higher risks of mortality over the follow-up period than those who attend most frequently,” researcher Robert Hummer said. “Those who attend weekly or less than once a week display about a twenty percent higher risk of mortality than those who attend more than once a week.” The study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also showed ailments common among those who don’t attend church. “[They] are about four times as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes, or infectious disease,” Hummer said.

I look at that research and then I look in the mirror at all the gray hair that the Church has given me. Jesus said, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18) I am convinced that it will not be an outside source that tears the Church apart. If the Church is to be brought down, it will come from within. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17)

In the Old Testament kings believed that God gave them direction in dreams.
If they wanted to know what they were supposed to do in their administration, they would try to dream and receive a direct word from God. And if they weren’t getting any messages in their dreams while lying in their own beds, they would sleep in the Temple. They believed that it would work better there. There begins the origin of the time-honored tradition of sleeping in church.
A church on the move must confront reality and meet people where they are.
Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination. Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

Isaiah touches my soul. The 40th Chapter of Isaiah starts off with the prophet hearing God say, Comfort, comfort, my people…Does the prophet really have to comfort the believers? Yes, because every last one of them is a sinner melting into the Church as one body. Here we come, all of us, battered and bruised, into the body of Christ.

Here is our problem – we are the Church, the moral teacher of society. It is a problem to teach morality when we ourselves have problems being moral.
And we will always have that problem as long as we subdivide sins. The sin of murder is worse than lying. The sin of adultery is worse than a lack of hospitality. Jesus Himself shatters that thought when He told us that we could murder a person by our tongue. That we could commit sexual immorality just by our very thoughts. Sin is nothing more and nothing less than that which displeases God. Jonah runs away when God calls him to go to Nineveh. What is wrong with that, we ask? Ask someone who is running away from God’s call. It displeases God. The Disciples rub the grain of wheat in their hands on the Sabbath. The Law forbid it. But the Law was given to benefit humanity, not harm.

Isaiah writes, A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Hear the beauty of this word! A man too poor. The carpenter chooses a sound piece of wood.’ He cuts down an ash, a tree which will not rot. Perhaps he chooses a tree which is incorruptible. He who is accustomed to examine, and to judge between the wood which is durable, and the wood that is not. The craftsman knows that there is something better than himself and seeks to find it and worship it. A wise artificer is the believer who will find God. A wood that will not rot nor topple. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The challenge of the Gospel is that we get our eyes off of ourselves and on to God. The phrase, `shall not be moved,’ does not refer so much to being fixed in one place, as to durability and permanency. We don’t talk enough about the cost of Christ. Remember the old song, Power in the Blood? The same blood that redeemed all.

A Cure For Temptation

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Matthew 4:1-11

Six-year-old Tommy entered the kitchen with two pieces of candy in his hand.
“Look Mom, I found two pieces of candy in the drawer.” His mother saw his younger brother following him. “Are you going to share your candy with your brother?” Tommy answered, “I can’t share with him; I only have two pieces of candy, and that’s not enough to share.” Mom was not ready to relent. “Now Tommy, let’s think about this for a minute. Are you sure that is the right thing to do. If Jesus was here right now, what do you think he would do?” Tommy thought for a moment and then answered, “I think that if Jesus was here, he would make two more pieces of candy for my brother.”

In an issue of American Sociological Review, a recent study shows that young married couples have a greater tendency to divorce if they live in an area with a high concentration of singles. They analyzed 2,592 married men and women in their 20s. These participants were interviewed annually for seven years then that data was cross-referenced with the demographics of their area. Those surrounded by greater numbers of available partners had higher divorce rates. Temptation works like that. When the majority of those around us are doing things differently than we are, our temptation to join them increases. Sometimes we need to change the environment we are in, or make certain we have ample support to keep us from being adversely impacted by it.

Temptation is an enticement or invitation to sin, with the implied promise of greater good to be derived from following the way of disobedience. A good example is Adam and Eve in the Garden. In this sense, God does not tempt humanity, nor can God as the holy God be tempted (James 1:13). The supreme tempter is Satan, who is able to play upon the weakness of human nature (James 1:14) and so to lead people to destruction.

The gospel of Jesus Christ directs man to resist temptation, promising blessedness to those who do (James 1:12). In the Old Testament, temptation can best be understood as testing or proving. The Lord tests Israel to prove the true nature of her faithfulness to Him. His purpose is not to induce His people to sin but to confirm their faith. As in the case of Job, Satan the tempter can serve the Lord’s purpose. The story is told of an elderly man who, a number of years ago, had lost his right arm in an accident. At first the trauma of the loss totally destroyed the man’s desire to attend or enter into any sports even though they had been so much a part of his life. All this brought him to severe depression; however, it wasn’t long before a caring friend talked him into a game of handball and he was hooked. Amazingly, as fast as his depression came, he lost it. Within a few years he was considered one of the best handball players in his area and had been in numerous tournaments, always doing well and making the game look so easy. In one tournament he easily won his way into the finals and after making it look so easy, he won the final two games against one of the best players in the game, a man thirty years younger. In an interview with the local newspaper after the match he was asked: “How did you do it?” To this he replied, “Decisions.” Not satisfied with such a simple answer the reporter asked what he meant, “It’s easy; every time the ball was hit to my opponent he had to decide which hand to hit it with, however, when the ball was hit to me . . . it was easy because I had already made my decision.” What would our lives be like if every time adversity or Satan himself puts the ball in our “court” we had already decided how we would return it?

Why is it that opportunity knocks only once yet temptation bangs on the door constantly? Have you ever noticed that everyone has a “home remedy” for something? My father-in-law it was garlic. The person suffering on TV it is Philips. Others it is Vicks Vapo Rub and still others something out of the health food store. There are four (4) cures for temptation!

The first cure is to FLEE. Paul writes, Flee from sexual immorality. (1 Cor 6:18) Paul continues to write to the young Timothy, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Tim 6:11) Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants were inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Gen 39)

Secondly, the gospel also directs us to pray for deliverance from exposure to temptation and from surrender to it (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4). Several years ago, Dr. Ruth Berenda and a group of fellow psychologists rediscovered the dramatic power of societal pressure. In an experiment they invited ten teenagers into a room where three charts were displayed. Each chart had three lines of different lengths. The group members were asked to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on each chart. One teen in each group did not know that the other nine teens had been instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the second longest line. The lone teen frequently looked somewhat confused but cast a wrong vote with the other nine students. Dr. Berenda’s data revealed that 75% of the teens allowed peer pressure to override their own better judgment. We all need the affirmation to choose what is right rather than what is popular. Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end out of line. You can stay on the road if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tightly. Any lapse of attention, however, and you head straight for the ditch. Society in general-educators, political leaders, parents-exhorts us to drive straight and curb our destructive tendencies. Coming to Christ is a little like getting a front-end alignment. The pull toward the ditch is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel.

Thirdly, the Lord will not allow His people to encounter temptation beyond their Spirit-given ability to resist (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9). A man consulted a psychiatrist. He complained, “I’ve been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me.” The doctor asked, “And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?” The fellow replied, “Well, no, I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.” Researchers at Duke University Medical Center studied 1700 older Americans and discovered that those who regularly attended religious services had stronger immune responses than those who did not. Blood tests showed that attending church raised their level of immunity against disease. So believers are healthier in body as well as soul! Of course, attending church will never give you immunity from temptation, but it will make your resistance to temptation much stronger and you will be far less likely to yield to it.

Fourth, is memory. The ceiling of New York’s Grand Central Terminal recently received a $4.4 million cleaning. In October of 1995, Marina Yashina and Mary Flinn started cleaning the 1945 mural under which half a million people walk, or run, to catch trains each day. They removed fifty-two years of residue from diesel fumes, cigarette smoke, steel dust, and floating dirt. In one spot they found a half-inch-thick layer of grime. But these two artists didn’t want their work to go unnoticed so they left a spot. They purposefully did not clean an 8-by-3-foot section of the mural. Marina Yashina, a Moscow native who helped restore the Kremlin, said, “If we don’t leave something dirty, people will forget how it looked before.” Our testimony should be something like that old train station’s cleaned mural. We need to remember just enough of our life without Christ so we won’t be tempted to return to the filth of our sin.