Friday, January 29, 2010

FREEDOM OVER TEMPTATION

Sunday January 24, 2010


Introduction: There will be battles in life.

How do you resist the temptation to sin? How do you do in the face of such issues as anger, lust, jealousy, pride, drug and alcohol abuse, and greed?

A couple of weeks ago we learned about the sin that was crouching at Cain's door and that God had told him he was to master it. Instead, Cain allowed sin access to deeper regions of his heart and he failed to master the sin of envy and anger. The result was earth's first murder and Abel's blood crying out for justice.

Last week we took a look at the parents of Cain and saw that Eve was enticed and deceived into taking the illicit fruit from the forbidden tree and then handed the fruit to Adam. The result was that their eyes were open but not quite the way they expected. Sin and shame was the first curse and then they had to face their loving Creator. As a result they were banished out of the Garden- the perfect world created for them- and given coats of skins taken from innocent animals slain on their behalf.

Where Adam and Eve failed; where Cain failed; where countless others failed at mastering the sin crouching at their door, Jesus does not fail. In fact, Jesus takes on sin in the most severe weakness of the flesh in order to prove what it truly means to be a human person.

God did not create you and I for the purposes of sin and doing evil. His plan is that sin and evil desires be stamped out of your life so that He can use you to the fullest of the potential you were created for.

I am fascinated by Jesus' temptations because they don't seem to quite match up with the temptations we deal with. Jesus wasn't tempted in the desert by lust but a lot of us are. Jesus wasn't tempted by greed but a lot of us are. Jesus wasn't tempted by things that we seem to be prone to as human beings.

However, what I discover is that Jesus was tempted on a deeper level that really does mirror our own temptations.

Dostoevsky suggests in his book The Brothers Karamazov that by turning down the three temptations that we just read about, Jesus forfeited the three greatest powers as his disposal: miracle, mystery and authority.

And for us this might seem out of our league. But it really isn't when you think about it.

MIRACLE- We all want short-cuts in life. We would rather have the bread, the money, the material things without the sweat, hard-work and even worry to get it. We would prefer the easy way rather than the hard way. So many struggle with issues of lust because they have habits that buy into the instant gratification that sin begs them towards. Satan offers Jesus the easy way to satisfy his own personal hunger. But Jesus resists the devil and shows us restraint.

MYSTERY- We all want to be somebody in life. We want people to see us as wonderful beyond belief and to respect us- maybe even adore us. Satan offers Jesus the easy way to winning over the people and even winning over his enemies. By simply leaping from the temple pinnacle- at least 200 feet- and being protected by the angels, Jesus would enjoy instant fame. And who wouldn't want that? However, again Jesus resists the devil and shows us restraint in the face of temptation.

AUTHORITY- We all want to be in control. Climb the corporate ladder, beat out the guy beside you and in front of you. In a dog-eat-dog world, we can get caught up in the whole "I want to be in charge" mentality. It creeps subtly into your life in ways you don't realize: where to eat supper, how your shirts are folded, the kind of car you want; it creeps subtly into church life where in recent years there are complaints of congregations disrespecting the pastor and the pastor disrespecting the congregation, people disrespecting each other and every disrespecting God because we want the authority, to be the final answer. Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. In essence, you will be in charge of everything. For Jesus, this would be the easy way to do God's will. But with one small detail: bow down and worship evil. Jesus refuses, resists the devil and once again shows restraint.

At the end of the temptations, after Jesus has overcome the devil, the angels show up to minister to him.

So what does this all mean to us- each one of us- old Christians, new Christians, struggling Christians and even victorious Christians? I'm glad you asked!

For you today, for you facing personal unseen battles of faith, for you struggling to do the right things and for you who may be on the mountain-top today but might face a valley tomorrow there are some principles and facts for us to consider as we find Freedom over Temptation.

So let's put on our thinking caps and let's take a deeper look into how you can have freedom over temptation

  1. Temptation as a Result of NATURAL YEARNINGS.

We all have natural yearnings. The most basic human needs according to my seventh grade Geography class with Mr. Rop are food, clothing and shelter. Wrapped in among these basic survival needs are other natural yearnings.

… to be satisfied.

Most people want to go to bed with a full stomach and a peaceful mind.

…to be loved.

There isn't a person alive who doesn't long to be truly loved. And so people fall into temptations to fulfill that longing to be truly loved. However, no matter how much illicit sex a person may get, they will never realize true love both from God and their spouse unless they live life God's way.

…to be somebody.

Hurt and abused people struggle with self-esteem issues. In fact, I would guess just about everyone does at one time or another. But only in Christ can any of us truly experience what it means to be "fearfully and wonderfully made" by God.

…to be secure.

When we awake in the mornings and when we go to bed at night and as we live and work during the day we want to know that we are safe. We depend on our nation's leaders to protect us from the outside evils of terrorism; we depend on our nation's policing forces such as the FBI to catch criminals and bring them to justice; we depend on the State of Michigan, Oceana County, and for some of us, the Village of Shelby to protect us from others infringing on our rights by taking things from our homes, hurting us or our families and causing harm to our communities.

But true security comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Governments will fail- and have; police forces aren't perfect; criminals do crimes and harm others; but Jesus never fails.

Satan wants us to short-cut our natural yearnings and give in to temptations that violate the Word of God. We have to take seriously what God's desires are for our lives and resist the devil.

A second principle about temptation is:

2. Temptation as a Result of HUMAN ENVIRONMENT.

Who are you and what do you do when nobody is looking? That's a monumental question about the true character of a person.

Who are you and what do you do when someone is looking? That's just as important of a question about your true character.

I spoke with a couple of nurses yesterday after having an MRI. One of them used to work at one of our local supermarkets but now works in the lab at the hospital. I asked her what it was like and she made the comment that she actually sees a lot of the same customers. And then she said this: they seem nicer here to me here than they were towards me in the store.

I found that strange. And so I got to thinking while laying there in that cylinder with my eyes closed: should Christians be any different in a different place? Of course not.

As Christians, our environment should not be the cause of us sinning. But understand, temptation follows you wherever you go. Life Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Mask of the Red Death" evil cannot be boxed out, boarded out or avoided. Monks who attempted to defeat evils such as lust would remove themselves from outside world contact but still struggled with the same lust problems.

Understand, there are certain things we have little control over but then there are certain things we have lots of control over.

Here is a short list of human environments that we all have to deal with:

a) The Place you Live.

Beware of how you live in your home- you control what you watch on television and look at on your computer.

b)The Place you Work.

Beware of co-workers who would love nothing better than to tempt you, make your life miserable because of your faith and say all manner of evil against you. Resist lashing back at such people.

c) The Places you go.

Guard the places you are at. Some of you can go to the Brown Bear for a bear-burger and not have a problem. An alcoholic must truly consider not going to places that serve alcohol.

d) The People you encounter.

Watch whom you build relationships with. I have witnessed co-workers in the shop who finally gave in to the temptation of an affair due in part because they worked in close quarters together and developed emotional bonds. Two marriages, two families were destroyed by what seemed to be a natural thing. Maybe you quit a certain restaurant or going to a certain place or asking for a transfer or even quitting your job to save not simply your marriage or your reputation but to save your soul.

Be careful who your friends are. Paul properly quotes a Greek philosopher: Bad company corrupts good character. Watch out for friends who want to steer you towards evil. Make new friends if you have to. And at the same time you be the friend who stands for what's right.

I could go on and on but let's take a look at a third principle about temptation:

3. Temptation as a Result of SUBTLE APPEALS.

Satan very rarely runs a full frontal attack against your spirituality. Check out these crafty and tempting pleas toward sin:

"You deserve it."

"You can't help yourself."

"It's not your fault."

"You were born this way."

"Others are doing it."

"You have a right."

"You've got to do…

  • …what feels good.

  • …what feels right.

  • …what's best for you.

In none of these subtle appeals do you find the leading of the Holy Spirit. In facing temptation you have to do as Jesus did and resist the enemy and he will flee. It's important for us to understand that Jesus understands what you go through.

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 2:18

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin."
Hebrews 4:15

4. Overcoming Temptation as a Result of THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In truly overcoming temptation we have to understand that it is not about me but about God. The Bible says this about you and me who claim Christ as our Lord and Savior: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit whom you received from God? You are not your own you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Jesus paid the price so that you could be born again and saved from your sins. Because you belong to the Holy Spirit you now live your life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some important guidelines to enjoying freedom over temptation.

  • Understanding & Using the Scriptures.

Get into God's Word regularly. I promote that every Christian should do at least 5 days a week for devotions. We have devotionals available to you. Make a practice of reading your Bible- even small portions. If you struggle with reading we have the Bible on tape- some have utilize this method.

  • Listening & Learning from Others.

Read Christian authors, learn from other Christians even right here, listen to their experiences and then apply the truths you learn. I'm not going to nail everything you need for your faith. You won't find me jealous because you happen to watch Charles Stanley or listen to Chuck Swindol or read Max Lucado. I like all of those guys and have their books on my shelves.

  • Developing & Doing Spiritual Disciplines.

Come up with a plan on living a solid Christian life. Next month we will be starting Christianity 101 Class. The objective is learn the basics about how to live a Christian life, what the Bible is all about and Christian doctrines we believe. In that we will lay out a way to make a plan of spiritual growth and then to work that plan into routines.

  • Praying & Praising as Life Habits.

I have found that my life could not have dealt with some of the issues I have had to deal with- and even temptations. Good praying and praising habits are essential to every Christian here. Find the kind of Christian music style you enjoy and crank it up when you drive somewhere or do housework or work on your car.

Learn the old hymns as well as the newer stuff. Not because we need to be old-fashioned but because the hymn book has some fantastic songs that address the very issues we deal with every day.

Conclusion: There will be battles for you to win.

God has not called us a life of defeat-ism but to a life of freedom and victory through Christ.

Here are some nitty-gritty guidelines for you to be victorious over the battles that you will face in every phase of life:

  • You are called to live a holy life. "For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight." (Ephesians 1:4)
  • You will always face diverse temptations.
    "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kind." (James 1:2) James seems to make a realistic assumption about the Christian life: there will be trials of many kind.
  • You won't be tempted beyond your ability to resist. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB)
  • The Holy Spirit will help you as you allow Him to. "So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desires of the sinful nature." (Galatians 5:16)
  • Seek forgiveness when necessary. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
  • Get an accountability partner. Everyone should have an accountability partner who can help you win in your walk with Christ.
    As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
    (Proverbs 27:17)
  • Claim the holy life that is yours. Too often we forget that holiness is not a goal to achieve but is a life to live. Way too often we strive to live appropriate lives for Christ, for our marriage and family and even for ourselves and yet forget in all of our strivings that to be holy is not the ultimate goal. To live out the holiness of Christ that has truly gripped our life is what this dark and lonely world desperately needs. "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." Romans 6:11 {This last thought was added during publishing. As I thought further on this message I felt that future readers might benefit from a fuller understanding of where I'm coming from.}

How do you resist the temptation to sin? How do you deal with such issues as anger, lust, jealousy, pride, drug and alcohol abuse, and greed?

Remember there is victory in Jesus. There is forgiveness of sins, there is cleansing and there is standing true.

Praise the Lord- There is freedom over temptation.


Legends of the Fall

Sunday January 17, 2010

Shelby Wesleyan Church

Here's a little pop quiz that I thought might make this sermon a wee bit more interesting:

Q: What do we have that Adam never had?
A: Ancestors.

Q: Why was Adam created first?
A: To give him a chance to say something.

Q: When was the longest day in the Bible?
A: The day Adam was created because there was no Eve.

Q: Why did God create man before woman?
A: He didn't want any advice.

Q. Where is the first mention of insurance in the Bible?
A. When Adam and Eve needed more coverage.

(from www.juliantrubin.com/bible)

Last week our message had to do with the murderous affair of Cain killing Able because of a fit of jealousy and anger over acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices. The problem of the sins of the parents, Adam and Eve, was being exposed in their children, Cain and Able. We see Able as truly the first man of faith and Cain as a man of jealousy and anger.

Sin doesn't just happen. Sin was crouching at Cain's door and God called on him to master it. However, he couldn't- or most likely, wouldn't.

The apple didn't fall far from that family tree. Adam and Eve allowed sin to overcome them and the results proved to be far more disastrous than they expected.

The focus of this message from Genesis 3 is to show that in spite of the temptation and giving in to sin, God provides a means of deliverance.

How do you handle the temptation of sin? How do you overcome the feelings of going ahead and doing the wrong thing when you better enough to do the right thing?

I like what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians who were struggling with the whole mess of pagan sacrifices, sexual perversity and divisions within the church:

1 Corinthians 10:13- No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I truly believe that God always makes a way out of sin through forgiveness, reconciliation with Him and most importantly, by the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Notice what grips our attention as we look at the Genesis 3 account of the legends of the fall: We see…

  1. Disaster in the Making.

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate."

Whenever I seem to approach the temptation in the garden story I always seem to find myself hoping that somehow Adam and Eve would make a different choice. But instead they continue to make the same choice as the last time I read it.

But it made me think of something else. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. (Einstein is given credit for this- so I've heard.) So what is our excuse as human beings when we choose to make wrong choices- again and again and again? Our experience tells us how it will turn out but somehow we hope that it ends up differently.

Sin began, very simply, with unbelief. Eve chose to believe the serpent rather than God. Understand that she and Adam had complete access to the Tree of Life that stood nearby. But instead, we see them standing beneath the forbidden tree- the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As you begin to read the Temptation account you see the process of sin take shape and that process could not start without the problem of unbelief. John Wesley wrote of this in one of his sermons ("The End of Christ's Coming") and describes it in three deliberate steps that began with unbelief.

a. Unbelief gives birth to pride.

They think that they are wiser than God. Any time we choose to not believe God we are choosing to believe something else. It's pretty hard to stand neutral when you reject God's way. This is called pride.

b. Pride gives birth to self-will.

They were determined to do their own will rather than God's will. Regardless of how tempting or justifying we can make of the sin temptation it is a deliberate choosing of going our direction rather than God's. Self-will says that "I did it my way." How many people do you know who live their entire lives like this? "I'm the captain of his soul." Wrong, wrong, wrong for the Christian to ever have this kind of spirit of self-will. Look at what happens next.

c. Self-will gives birth to evil desires.

They chose foolishly but willfully. And people who consider themselves self-made, captain of their own fate, are the ones who end up the most unhappy in life.

Most don't ever think of the consequences of sin. Adam and Eve never considered the wrong choice that they were going to make.

When God created humanity He gave us an absolute free will. He did not make us machines which can only turn according to His direction.

Adam and Eve could have very simply walked away and obeyed God. Or they could have stood there and disobeyed God. They chose to disobey God.

And the image of God created in mankind was tarnished forever.

As with most sins we commit, Adam and Eve were unaware of the true and…

2. Unintended Consequences of Sin.

Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves.

Adam and Eve could not have imagined the problems that sin would bring their way. I think of four consequences that perhaps we should keep in mind when we face temptation:

Results of disobedience: guilt and shame. Anytime sin is in charge there is very little room for grace. Instead, there is a constant sense of guilt and shame. Now if you don't have that perhaps you better pray for it! Adam and Eve experienced guilt and shame because of their wrong choice.

Loss of divine grace: unholy and unhappy. You will never be truly happy and truly fulfilled with sin in your life. You may not realize it at the time and live a sort of "ignorant state of bliss" but once you know true freedom in Christ you will look back and wonder why you lived in such a state.

Spiritual death: the loss of the life and image of God. Man no longer possessed the glory of his moral likeness to God. He lost the perfectness of humanity that was created in the image of God.

Enslavement to sin: they could never be who they were created to be. God's original goal was for man to receive and digest God's spiritual life with the truth and reality in this spiritual life. Instead, they did as so many have done who have followed in their path: they chose the bowl of pottage over the birthright and wanted their inheritance now rather than later.

(H. Orton Wiley, Paul T. Culbertson, Introduction to Christian Theology pp. 164-165; Watchman Nee The Spiritual Man, Volume 1 pp. 29-31)

What could they do? In that moment of the desire for what was forbidden, sin entered the heart. It was not merely the action that brought forth sin but the intent of the heart. And now they stand full of guilt and shame.

And then they hear the footsteps of the Lord God. We see them where we very easily could see ourselves when faced with a guilty conscience:

3. A Defenseless Standing before God.

Numbers 32:23- But if you do not do this, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. (Moses' response to the Gadites and Reubenites who preferred to live on the east side of the Jordan. They were called on to go into the Promised Land first to aid the other tribes and then return- but not until they had helped the others to total victory.)

It's interesting how people act once their sin has found them out. They go to rehab centers for drug, alcohol or sex addictions. They live life up until confronted with their sin. I don't decry this because I see too many situations where people are confronted and refuse help.

In the perfect world of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve stand defenseless as the Lord God approaches.

What would you say? What could you say? I will give Adam credit, he did come out and face the consequences like a man.

And it was then that they received…

4. Divine Condemnation.

The New England Primer was the first and most basic textbook used in the American colonies for school children as well as the classrooms in Sabbath school. It was the most successful textbook because it was able to mingle education and moral teaching.

I have drawn from the public domain two samples of the New England Primer.

The first, "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." Not only do you learn as a little munchkin that Adam sinned and when he did we all sinned, but you also learned that "A" was the first letter of the alphabet.

The second, "Thy Life to mend, God's Book attend." Your little Johnny would not only learn that the second letter in the alphabet is "B" but he would also learn that if he wants to straighten out his life then he will be attending not neglecting the Bible.

Adam's sin ushered sin into a perfect world. The world that God had created became cursed because of sin. The Holy cannot tolerate the unholy. The New England Primer had it right: "In Adam's fall, we sinned all."

Punishment had to be meded out- God's holiness demands that there be justice and this justice results in wrath.

a. The Doom of Satan.

The serpent was forced to be on "his belly" all of his days of existence. No one knows for sure if the creature still exists in today's present form and it may or may not have been a snake. (William Barclay suggests that perhaps the "serpent" was a monkey.)

Beyond the serpent itself is the doom of Satan. Obviously the serpent was used by Satan in order to bring temptation. His punishment was that eventually his head would be crushed.

b. The Punishment of Humanity.

Humanity is punished but notice the difference:

  1. The serpent is punished first. God did not choose to punish the humans first but the one bringing the temptation to start with. It tells us where ethical blame lies when someone causes "one of these little ones to stumble." However, this doesn't release someone from their legal obligation for the punishment of sin.
  2. Eve's Sorrow. I know this bugs some women, but I didn't write the Bible. Women would be reminded of sin's consequences even in something as wonderful as birthing a child. However, 1 Timothy 2:15-16 speaks of a type of "salvation" through childbirth if the mother maintains a life of faith, love and holiness with propriety.
  3. Adam's Labor. Life would not come easy. Even the richest kings can find life challenging. For Adam, picking fruit off of any tree anytime was a thing of the past. (And yet men find a certain satisfaction with hard work and earning bread by the sweat of their brow.)

The legends of the fall would be left to wallow in the misery of their wrong deeds. I have met those people who believe "if you build your nest then you must lie in it" and have no sense of mercy towards anyone who makes errors in life. It doesn't matter to them if a guy makes one mistake of numerous. They are all the same.

Well, I am glad that the most holy of any, the Lord God, is a God who is full of mercy and grace. Yes, God is holy. Yes, the sinner needs to be judged. But better yet, the sin can be atoned for.

And that is why the gospel message that Jesus saves is good news. And this message is good news because we don't end it with tragedy but with triumph. And what we see and can experience is the…

5. Revelation of Redeeming Love.

This should be the theme of every Christian's song and message: redeeming love. God's redeeming love for humanity. God loved Adam and Eve and the whole human race so much that He was making a way for them.

a. Jesus regained what Adam lost.

We all sinned in Adam. We would not have done any different. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam's sin and God's gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God's gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man's sin. For Adam's sin led to condemnation, but God's free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. (Romans 5:15-16 NLT)

b. Jesus provides a way out of sin.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 NKJV)

What Satan stole from humanity through the temptation of Adam and Eve, the spiritual death that resulted and the destruction of humanity, Jesus comes to defeat by His life. And what's more Jesus looks not to defeat sin by simply His death but that sin and Satan would be defeated through our lives of holiness. He comes to you right now to give you new life, not steal your life from you; to give you life, not death; to build you up, not destroy. And in receiving Christ or recommitting your life to Him today, you can have a life that is so much better and so much greater than the one without Christ.

That's a promise you can bank on and live with- forever!

c. Jesus gives us salvation by faith in him.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)

Notice that Adam and Eve's greatest problem was unbelief. Because they chose to not believe a whole new world of unintended consequences overwhelmed them. BUT, belief is what overcomes unbelief. And this is the opportunity of a lifetime for you today.

Do you long for freedom from the sin that brings guilt and shame? Do you long for the kind of freedom that Jesus offers? A freedom that doesn't make you feel shameful or guilty or condemns you?

That freedom is found nowhere else than in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: Our Freedom in Christ Jesus over sin and evil.

And now you have a choice: choose wisely through Jesus Christ or not. Choose to BELIEVE or choose to do as Adam and Eve did and not believe.

The choice is yours.

How sad it is that when men and women not much different than us hear the word but walk away determined to go their own direction.

But you don't have to do that today. Our Lord has graciously offers to you the opportunity to get on the right path and to seek Him. Not because you are so strong or so worthy or so wonderful- but because you are so privileged to have God's grace shine into your heart at this very moment.

Will you choose Christ- choose Life- rather than choose your own way and your own wisdom?

Do you believe that you are a sinner?

Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?

Do you believe that you can be forgiven for your sins?

Are you ready to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Genesis 4:1-16

A few years ago (2004) a Chinese movie hit theatres and was a box office smash called “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The plot of the movie was about a sword that was stolen as well as two women who were fighting for standing in a society that honored men far above women- especially in the martial arts.

The title of the movie reflected a Chinese proverb that meant: “Talented or dangerous people hidden from view.”

(source: Actress Zhang Ziyi web site- http://csc.ziyi.org/filmography/cthd/wangdulu/titlename.html)

And the movie seems to bear that out. Each character is hiding their true identity in order to avoid issues with other characters. In the end, the movie is tragedy as the main characters come to their demise in various ways.

I chose the title of this message not to reflect the movie but to reflect the reality of sin and problem of sins in the lives of people and especially God’s people. We expect sinners to sin. We anticipate that without Christ a person will be prone to committing sin. However, we don’t believe that it is ever okay for a Christian to commit sin.

And here lies the heart of the message today: sin is like a crouching tiger lying in wait at the door of your life. You face the temptation, you allow it to manifest itself in your life and pretty soon this sin masters you and controls who you really are- not the person you want people to think you are.

Furthermore, behind the sin crouching is the hidden dragon of Satan who is continually seeking whom he may devour. Jesus warns us that the evil one comes to steal, kill and destroy.

What is going on in your life?

1. Brotherly Differences.

Siblings are going to be different. I enjoy the relationships of 3 families: my biological family with 2 brothers and 2 sisters; my foster family with 2 brothers and 1 sister; and my wife’s family with 4 sister-in-laws and 1 brother-in-law. Trust me, we are all different and have all shared our differences over the years. But none to the point of what we see happening with Cain and Abel.

a) Cain- Older; Abel- Younger.

When Cain was born Eve simply says, “I have brought forth a man.” Most likely she was referencing her miraculous ability to bear a child and the very first one. When Abel was born there is no response recorded but I have to believe that she was just as thrilled with having a second child.

b) Cain- Farmer; Abel- Shepherd.

Cain was a worker of the soil. For most of us here, we hold a high regard for farmers. They literally feed the world and feed us. We don’t think too often of shepherds and ranchers- unless we’re looking for a good sweater or steak- or belt. But we don’t think any less of them. And we wouldn’t think any less of Cain or Abel if we happened to be their neighbors- actually brothers and sisters.

c) Cain’s offering was unacceptable; Abel’s offering was acceptable.

At the time of worship, the brothers brought gifts that came from their separate occupations. Cain’s was from the fruit of the soil. Abel’s from the flocks of the field. God chose to accept Abel’s but not Cain’s.

Now this is something that has troubled Bible scholars, commentators, pastors and Sunday school teachers for thousands of years. What was the problem? We teach you to offer whatever you have to the Lord because it all belongs to him anyway. Cain was not a shepherd, he was a farmer. Abel’s offering was easily accessable- he raised the sheep.

We cannot assume that Cain offered the wrong sacrifice. God wanted his kind of offerings as well. Leviticus 2 outlines the “Grain Offerings” and how those were to be handled.

So what was the problem?

d) Cain was a man of anger; Abel was a man of faith.

Hebrews 11:4 tells us that Abel was a man of faith. In fact, he is listed as the first example of being a person of faith. What we see is Abel’s inner attitude of faith as he made the offering. Cain did not carry this inner attitude. Instead, when Cain’s offering was rejected he became visibly anger – “his face was downcast.”

Sibling rivalries happen. Last week Naomi watched one of our twin grandsons take a toy from the other twin grandson. These things seem to start early.

But let’s not miss the greater principle here: Are you an man or woman of faith in God first? If so, we don’t get smug in our right choices as Christians but we love the brothers and sisters and mom and dad in our family. Furthermore, we love our brothers and sisters within this church family. and let’s not forget our Lord’s great command of loving our neighbor as our self.

God spoke to Cain. He warned him that “sin is crouching at your door.” What did he mean?

Think of a wild animal that is in its lair. As you approach the opening this animal is ready to leap out at you. The warning is clear: beware of becoming a slave to your jealousy.

God then tells Cain that you must master it. (v. 7) Cain had allowed hostility to fester inside of him. He was seething with envy and anger.

God’s acceptance or rejection was clearly based on not only the offering itself but also on the attitude of the heart. God told his prophets on numerous occasions that He did not want sacrifices as substitutes for lives of obedience and inner righteousness.

How easy it is for us to fall into that trap. In other words, God does not want you to come to church and do the church thing as a substitute for being obedient to Him and living a life of faith.

James 1:15- “After [evil] desire has conceived it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

In a literal sense, Cain was allowing evil desire to become full-grown in his life. And in so doing he chose a path of no return.

2. Cain’s Path of Jealousy.

In Galatians 5:19-21 the Apostle Paul lists what he refers to as acts of the sinful nature. Among these he names “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage and selfish ambitions.” We have to be so careful that we do not allow the devil a foothold in our lives. You see, just as God warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door, so to for any of us- if we allow certain reactions and behaviors to manifest themselves- sin will be ready to destroy our heart, soul and life. And those around us.

Cain charted a course that would lead to destruction for both him and his brother. Here is a small example of that.

a) Envy.

Have you ever saw someone achieve something and suddenly became jealous of what they received? Or did you see someone receive something and become upset that they were succeeding and you weren’t?

Have you ever been passed up for a promotion and watched someone else of less work ethic and less creativity get a raise and promotion that you though you deserved?

Have you ever watched the boss-man praise someone else for their efforts, ideas and work but he or she rarely says anything positive to you?

These kinds of things create unfriendly feelings. That’s not the problem. We all get passed up in one way or another. We all are going to feel “dissed” by the boss, our spouse, our sibling, our neighbor, our pastor or anyone else out there. It’s going to happen. I’m sure that somewhere over the last 10 years I did not give someone credit for something- not intentionally. And you might be that person.

It’s going to happen. And the unfriendly feeling we get isn’t the problem. It’s when we allow this unfriendly feeling to stir up the emotions and cause us to think constant about it.

This is what happened to Cain. Rather than go to God and figure out the problem and seek counsel from another sister or brother, Cain chose to sulk over it. And his sulking turned into…

b) Hatred.

I find it unbelievable that people can hate each other but it does happen. I find it hard to believe that even church people can find themselves caught in this vicious cycle. Why? Sin is crouching at their door and behind the sin is the hidden dragon of the devil willing to do anything to deceive the hearts of people.

Hatred is the opposite of love. Hatred speaks of division between you and someone else. Hatred creates hostility which leads to arguments, strife between the two parties and even a literal fight. The courts are filled with this and jails keep taking on people who have allowed hatred to come to full bloom.

And for Cain this hatred eventually turned to…

c) Murder.

In a day when there were no guns Cain found a way to carry out the dark thoughts of the human heart. His passionate outburst of anger became murder. The result was blood poured on the ground and how God’s heart must have broken that day.

Anyone can feel as though they would never go that far. Yes, the prisons are filled with psychotic people who kill as easily as they get dressed in the mornings. But prisons also hold people who have killed someone in an outburst of anger.

God had warned Cain. He spoke to Cain about this sin-directed pride. But Cain refused to listen.

Anytime we refuse to listen to God we will experience as Cain did…

3. Results of Sin.

Sin always has a negative result. You might feel good blasting someone’s character behind their back but somehow it will hurt you in the end.

a) An unthinkable occurrence.

Cain lures Abel into a field and murders him. Afterwards, God comes to Cain again and asks him, “Where is your brother?”

Cain responds with those now infamous words: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

MacArthur points out that this is a play on words. Earlier we read that Abel kept sheep. Some versions of the Bible refer to Abel as a keeper of sheep. This is the same sense. In a way, Cain is not very repentant for what he had done. He lies about knowing where is brother is when in fact he knows what he did to him and he doesn’t care about where Abel is.

Envy turned to hatred and hatred to murder. When sin is full grown it gives birth to death.

b) An earthly punishment.

Cain is sent out to be a fugitive and vagabond. He will not succeed as a farmer. He does marry and started a city. However, he carried a mark on him that kept others from killing him. No one is sure what that mark is but it was something that warned others.

But there is something worse than the earthly punishment:

c) An eternal punishment.

Verse 16 says: “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence…” There can be no worse punishment than to be dismissed from God’s presence. Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve, were sent out of the perfect world of the Garden of Eden because of their sin. Cain is sent out of a perfect relationship with God. A kind of spiritual death took place that day.

So what do we learn from this terrible tragedy? How can we better in our lives?

Conclusion: Practical Lessons- Winning the Battle for your soul.

There is a battle for your soul. And the devil will do whatever he can to deceive you, trip you up and destroy your life. But God provides a better way. Remember, he told Cain that he must master the sin that is crouching at his door. How do we do that?

a) Guard your emotions.

We are human beings not robots. We have very real emotions that get hurt easily. Even the strongest of men face these issues. How we handle them is of utmost importance.

Guard your emotions. Get into God’s word regularly. Pray for those who spitefully use you and say all manner of evil against you.

Guard your heart. When confronted with being wrong then admit it, apologize and seek forgiveness. And then don’t do it anymore.

Cain had every opportunity to get closer to God. He could have sought out why his offering was unacceptable. But I have a feeling he knew better. He had a heart of rebellion.

b) Value your relationships.

Value your family members, your friends, your church family and your neighbors enough to hold them close and to love them appropriately. What do I mean? Trying to control other people is a dicey issue. But loving them as God enables you to love them is the best way.

Do relationships challenge us? Absolutely. But you can love others- even that surly neighbor who wants to argue property lines with you.

c) Be victorious through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit. Those who belong to Jesus Christ live by the power of the Holy Spirit. The result is a life of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

d) Learn the art of forgiveness.

You can’t really move on in life unless you know how to forgive people even when they intentionally hurt you. And you need to learn how to forgive yourself as well. (Sermon in a couple of weeks about this.

e) Live a testimony of love and grace.

As a result your life will be a testimony of love and grace. When you are wrong you admit it and people know that about you. When someone says evil about you your response are words of love and forgiveness. When the world is against you, you know that God is for you who can be against you.

Back in my Bible college days we experienced a revival of sorts. The Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of students and staff for several weeks. The altars were lined constantly as we sought desperately sought God. Chapel services were filled with testimonies of what God was doing. What an incredible time!

But the true highlight of this revival was not the altars full of people seeking God- as great as that was; it was not the testimonies of students and staff at Chapel; it was the seeking out of each other and making confession of wrong attitudes and actions.

A change took place for the rest of that school year. We became more sensitive to the things we said to each other and how we handled issues of relationships.

My life was further molded into and towards the image of Christ that semester as a result of what God was doing in the lives of others and in me.

2 Corinthians 13:5- “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you- unless, of course, you fail the test?”

What does God want you to commit to Him this morning? Are there areas of envy and even hatred towards someone else that shouldn’t be in your heart?

This is an opportunity for you to commit your heart to the Lord right now and allow the Holy Spirit to work again in your life with the love of Christ.

Monday, January 4, 2010

THE LIFE OF FREEDOM

Message for the Wesley Covenant Service

January 3, 2010

Galatians 5:1

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (NKJV)

Historians of the early American colonies came up with a term called “Triangular Trade.” Most of us probably learned this in our history classes when we were in school and likely have forgotten all about it.

What was “Triangular Trade”? Triangular Trade was based on shipping. The goal of any merchant ship was not only never to arrive a port empty but to never leave a port empty. As you can see on the overhead there were three basic sets of geographic ports: Europe (primarily England), Africa (primarily the gold coastal area) and the Americas (the American colonies and the Caribbean islands). Each of these had items that the others didn’t have and needed items and goods that the others had.

For example, a ship leaving the Americas would go to England with a load of molasses, sugar and tobacco products. They would unload in England and load up guns, cloth and beer and head to Africa. Once in Africa they would then load up slaves and perhaps gold and head to the American colonies to start the process all over again.

Quite often- not always though- at the heart of the trade was slaves. Slaves would be literally hearded onto ships, packed in tightly like they were any other cargo and shipped across the Atlantic to the American colonies. This occurred for several hundred years until the slave trade was abolished by England and other nations. In fact, England would stop ships that were in the slave trade no matter what country they were from.

Thousands of slaves were captured by African tribes, delivered to the coastal ports of western Africa and traded to very eager Anglos ready to make money when they delivered them to the American colonies. The tragedy is that for so long so many tolerated slavery as “this is just the way it is.”


In fact, good Christian people owned slaves, traded and sold slaves and approved those who also participated. They literally saw nothing wrong with it.


And as I approach this whole issue of the life of freedom there are three thoughts that I want to highlight that I hope will help each of us realize that we must go beyond belief. In other words, God calls us to go deeper into this relationship through Jesus Christ that is more than just believing in Him for salvation.


1) Freedom over circumstances within your control.


I am alarmed that too many Christians have bought into that concept spiritually. That being a Christian and being a slave to a particular sin is “just the way it is.” We wink not only at the sinful behaviors of others but we actually tolerate certain aspects of it in our own lives.


a) Lust.

b) Gluttony.

c) Anger.

d) Jealousy.

e) Bitterness.

f) Pornography.

g) Critical spirit.

h) Lying.

i) Swearing.

j) Compulsive behaviors.

k) Addictive behaviors.


“But, Pastor, I’m not hurting anybody. It’s not like I’m actually killing someone by saying bad things about them behind their back. It’s not like I’m actually committing adultery because I look at someone other than my spouse with lust in my heart.”


Matthew 5:21-22 21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.


Matthew 5:27-28 27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


Well, brother and sister, Jesus didn’t see it that way. He saw the sin behind the sin. Whatever sin we commit- even in the privacy of our minds- is subject to judgment.


There is good news, brothers and sisters. Jesus paid it all. He paid the price so that you might not only have forgiveness of sins but have victory over the strongholds of life that keep you bottled up spiritually and emotionally and even physically.


The apostle Paul told the Corinthian Church that we have “weapons of our warfare that are not carnal, but might through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)


There’s another aspect of this spiritual victory that I long to see everyone of us have and that is:


2) Freedom over circumstances beyond your control.


But even further than just simply some particular enslavement to sinful behaviors, I have found so many enslaved to circumstances that seem to be beyond their control.


a) Some are enslaved to physical and emotional disability.


b) Some are enslaved to financial pressures.


c) Some are enslaved to what other people think of them.


My hope and prayer today is that we can somehow get a sense of not only hope that God will intervene for us in these different aspects but that somehow God will deliver us to spiritual victory and true freedom in spite of our circumstances and failures.


What do I mean?


You can still have victory over your finances and not earn a penny more.


You can still have victory over your physical disability and not experience physical healing.


You can still have victory over what others think about you and they never do change their mind about you.


I believe that our Lord longs to be gracious to us this day and that He desires the very best for His children.


3) Freedom to be a different person in Jesus Christ.


The Apostle Paul writes our text verse to a group of churches in the region known as Galatia. These believers were being imposed upon by some Jewish Christians with the idea that they had to adhere to the Jewish law in order to be Christians. Paul addresses this issue very forcefully and in such a way that there is no mistake about the basis of a Christian’s life: “I am crucified with Christ and yet not I that live but Christ in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)


He makes very clear to these Christians who used to live under the law that if they are saved by faith how can they go back to the old life under the law?


He says something similar later in his letter to the Romans 6:1. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!”


The greater point for us to realize is that as Christians our lives are much different from the life we had before we got saved.


But now that you are a believer in Christ you are a new creature; old things have passed away and all things have become new.


Neil T. Anderson has three very important concepts that he constantly teaches and I have co-copted into my thinking as a Christian. These three Christian ideals have helped me so much over the years to overcoming various situations, circumstances and (yes) sin.


(The next three or four Wednesday Prayer meetings will be covering these three concepts.)


a) I am accepted.


Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Jesus Christ paid the price of his life so that I could be accepted by God. I am God’s child. Furthermore, I am a friend with God. All because I have been bought with a price.


b) I am secure.


I am so grateful for my Baptist in-laws clinging to the “once saved always saved” belief. I don’t agree whole-heartedly with the idea but yet I appreciate it because there was a time I needed to believe that. I struggled for many years with a performance orientation concept that made me feel as though I was not saved half the time.


Something else I discovered along the way that I have needed to cling to is that the devil cannot bring me harm. All of hell’s fury may come but my soul is safe in the arms of God.


1 John 5:18 18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.


c) I am significant.


As a lost and lonely teenager I struggled for years with understanding my importance to God. Into my twenties and early thirties I had a hard time feeling very important or needed. And all this time I was telling my teens how important they were and yet I struggled within myself in feeling very important.


But something changed as the Holy Spirit slowly began to gain access to my life. It was a campmeeting with Adrian Depres as he preached what it meant to be in Christ. And he pointed out Colossians 1:27 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


Suddenly everything began to change in my thinking. Here I was at the ripe age of 36 years old and I learned that the mystery of the gospel message was Christ in me.


And now on my cell phone wallpaper you will read “Christ in me.” Or “I am in Christ.”


I have come to realize more and more and I’m still realizing this truth that I am significant to God so much that he gave his one and only son.


And now I am God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works. (Ephesians 2:1)

So what does this mean? I am free in Christ Jesus. The victory has been won by him for me.


And so on this day, as we participate in this Wesley Covenant Service...


Conclusion: What is it that you need God to do in your life?


Galatians 5:13- For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.


And so today in this Wesley Covenant Service I am calling on us as a body of Christians to believe God and what He tells us in His Holy Word about us and the freedom that is ours for the living.

Do you believe that God not only saves but saves to the uttermost?

Do you believe that God can and does deliver men and women from the enslavements of sinful behaviors- drugs, alcohol, sexual addictions such as pornography and homosexuality, and the like?

Do you believe that God can and does set men and women free from the enslavement of a bitter spirit, unforgiveness towards others and gossip?

Do you believe that God can reach down into your circumstances- both those you do control and those you do not- and do a new work in your heart and life?

I do.

Embrace this freedom through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:1 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

Not only…

Live the life of Christ that you were intended to live…

BUT

Love the life of Christ that you are called to live.



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