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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

I want to share with you briefly on Joy and Christmas-time. Joy is certainly central to the message the angel spoke to the Shepherds in the Christmas story.  Luke 2:10  says, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’”

Christmas is a time of joy, right? Time off work; enjoying family; giving gifts; special meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood and a time to set aside one’s problems for a while. All we need to do is hear the Christmas music and  see the decorations to be joyful and happy.

Yet, as you know, for some, Christmas can be a time of real sadness. If many have time off work, some don’t have a job or are working several jobs with no time off. If many enjoy family, some have family brokenness or even no family. If many give and receive gifts, some don’t have the money to do this. If many have special meals, some can’t afford this either. If many go to special events with friends, some don’t have friends to go out with. If many have sentimental remembrances, some didn’t have a good childhood and so it can bring back bad memories. If many are able to set aside their problems – some are reminded of specific tragedies that have happened at this time of year, or losses from the past year.

So for one or more of these reasons, simply to hear the music and to see the decorations brings sadness or even depression. You can’t seem to enter in and be happy, and it makes you sadder when you see others experiencing joy, when you can’t.

So does this mean that we shouldn’t talk about Christmas joy since we might make someone feel worse? No. We simply need to remember again why we have joy at Christmas. And we learn this from the angel who spoke to the Shepherds in Luke 2:11 – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Notice, the angel said nothing about time off work; family; gift giving; meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood; or a special time to set aside problems for a while. This is the cultural part of Christmas; the human traditions that have accumulated around our celebration of Christmas.

Think of Mary and Joseph. They were obeying an imperial edict to be registered in a census. I’m sure they weren’t excited about having to do this at the very time when Mary was due to give birth. I don’t think it was fun to have to put Jesus in an animal feed-trough because there wasn’t enough room for them in a home or an inn. They certainly weren’t enjoying what we associate with celebrating Christmas.

Think of the Shepherds as well. They took a brief break from their work to go see the baby and then went back. They had none of the trappings of our cultural traditions.

The angel said we can have joy because of something else. We have to keep vs. 10 and 11 together. v. 10 speaks of “good news of a great joy.” v. 11 tells us why – “for unto you is born . . . a Savior”

Our Messiah and Lord has come someone who can save us. Someone who can help us in our difficulties, provide for our needs, and give us the promise of a better future. And this is what gives us both hope and joy.

This is a message precisely for those who are sad and who don’t have what they want at this time of year. And it’s for all of us who have problems. You don’t need a savior if you have nothing to be saved from, right?

The true meaning of Christmas can give us all joy precisely because we do have problems, pain and brokenness.

Jesus is the savior. He has come. And he can help us. And this is what we celebrate. So let’s celebrate with vigor and great joy! A joy that cannot be taken away no matter what our circumstances are.

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The title today is “Knowing our place in God’s plan.” Now the phrase “knowing our place” doesn’t sit well with many Americans, being free spirited and independent as we so often are. We don’t like this idea of having “a place.” We say, “I’ll be who I want to be and do whatever I want.”

But the Scriptures teach us that we will only find true peace when we find our place in God’s will for our lives. There is a paradox here: the one who does whatever they want is actually a slave; a slave of sin, which eventually makes us miserable and destroys us. But the one who is a slave of God, doing what God wants,  is free; free to find true peace and contentment.

That’s because God made us; God designed us to walk in his ways. And specifically God has given each one of us gifts and callings. And it is only when we align our lives to his will that we will know true contentment and joy. Even if things are hard, we can know we are right where we should be.

John the Baptist knew his place in God’s plan. He was crystal clear. So I want us to look at two passages from the Gospel of John to see what we can learn from him.

John 1:19-27

John is not the Christ. 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

So this delegation from the powers-that-be come from Jerusalem to check John out because he is drawing big crowds. This was a cause of concern for them, since they were mindful of keeping the peace with the Roman overlords.

And as John answers all their questions, he reveals that he has a really clear understanding of who he is, and who he is not. Beginning in reverse order of who he is not – he is not “the prophet.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and how it speaks of a prophet like Moses who would come. And he is not Elijah, or at least he is not literally Elijah come from heaven after going there in a fiery chariot.

But most importantly he is not the Christ, or the Messiah. v. 20 – “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” He is very clear.

The lesson here for us regarding who we are not is that we also are not the Christ. This seems so basic that it shouldn’t have to be mentioned. And I don’t know anyone who would literally claim to be the Christ, apart from mental illness.

But there are some who, I think, have a “Messiah complex.” People, and yes, Christians, who think they are God’s gift to the world. Who have an all too high opinion of themselves. Who think that they know best about every situation; who have an answer to any problem; who think that everything hinges on them, and that without them things will just fall apart. They are here to save the day!

And then more commonly there is our simple self-centeredness. Where we live for ourselves and our self-interests. We make ourselves the Lord of our lives so that we are functionally claiming to be the Christ and Lord of ourselves and our domain. We don’t learn from Jesus, we don’t listen to Jesus, we don’t submit to Jesus. We just do what we want and what’s best for us.

In both of these cases we learn from John the Baptist that we too must submit ourselves to Christ and his Lordship.

  • He is the Savior, God’s gift to the world – not us.
  • He is Lord – and we are not.

This is the most basic first step in finding our place in God’s plan. We subordinate ourselves to him. This is the path to peace and joy.

Well even though he is not the Christ, John does have a role to play. He knows who he is not, but he also knows who he is. 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John is quoting Isaiah 40:3. He was given the unique role of preparing the way for Jesus as was prophesied by Isaiah. His job was to clear the obstacles out of the way for the coming of the Messiah. And he did this through calling people to repent of their sins and find forgiveness.

He is not the Christ, but he does have a role to play in God’s plan.

Our second lesson then is that we have a role in God’s plan too. In a parable in Matthew 25 Jesus makes the point that all of us have various responsibilities to work for him. Vs. 14-15 say, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

In Romans 12:4-6 Paul teaches us that we each have been given gifts to serve God. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”.

So we are to be clear about who we are not, but we also need to be clear about who we are – what God has called us to do, what gifts God has given to us. And we need to use them. What is your role? What is your specific place in God’s plan? I encourage you to find out; find your place and then do what God has called you to do.

John’s humility before Christ. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

There are several “comes after me” statements from John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. In 1:15 he says, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” In 1:30 he says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” And here we have, “He who comes after me – the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” In each case they refer to Jesus’ superior status or rank over John.

v. 27 is the most specific. To take off and put on someone’s shoes was considered slave work. And so John is saying that he is not even worthy to be a slave of Christ. Now, Jesus said of John that he was the greatest person in the period of the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:1). But even so, John knows his lowly place in relation to Jesus.

John models for us here how we are to be humble before Christ. Even though we have a role, and it may be a great one, we are under Christ. We too are not worthy to be Christ’s slave. We are as low as you can be. Not a master, not just a free person, not just a slave, but unworthy to be Christ’s slave.

As Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We are “unworthy servants.” This is our place in relation to Christ.

And then we come to our second passage –

John 3:26-30

Here we see that John’s place is to exalt Christ. 26And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

When some heard of Jesus’ success, they thought John the Baptist might be jealous. But John recognizes that whatever our place is, it is given by God. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” He has his own place, given him from heaven, just as Jesus has his own place given from heaven.

He also makes the point that he is not in competition with Jesus – he is not the Christ as he has been clear all along. Rather his place is to go before Christ.

John describes himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who is Jesus. And as the friend he takes joy in the success of the bridegroom and his blessings. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s goal is to exalt Jesus, not himself.

He is content and filled with joy in doing this. As he says in v. 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

The lesson for us is that our place is to exalt Christ, not ourselves. Life is not about us; our accomplishments; our name; our legacy. Always striving, grasping, panting for more and more. It is about Christ and who he is and what he has done. We must decrease, and he must increase.

And like John, when we do this our joy will be complete. When we are in God’s place for us we will have joy, peace and contentment.

William Higgins

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1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18

Our text today says, “Rejoice always . . . give thanks in all circumstances.” It may sound a bit familiar since we spent time on these verses last week. We’re actually breaking away from our series on 1 Thessalonians today, I am planning on finishing this up on the last Sunday of the month. But we are staying in the same neighborhood. I want to share more on the topic of giving thanks in all circumstances, specifically – why we can do this even in hard times.

Now it is easy to give thanks when God answers prayers and delivers us from our problems, although sometimes we forget to do this. But it is surely more difficult to give thanks when things are going badly for us. But it is possible. Let’s look at some –

Examples of rejoicing in suffering

The twelve apostles rejoiced in suffering. They were put in prison for their preaching but were miraculously released. Then whey they preached more, they were taken to stand before the governing authorities where they were beaten and warned to stop preaching. Acts 5:41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Paul and Silas rejoiced in suffering. In Acts 16 Paul cast out a fortune telling demon from a slave girl and this made the owners mad. They made money off this girl. They promptly caused a stir and got Paul and Silas in trouble with the authorities. Vs. 23-25 say, “And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison . . . into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them . . ..” They were unjustly beaten, arrested and shackled – but they were singing praises to God.

This happened just before Paul came to Thessalonica, so he knew what he was talking about when he told them “rejoice always . . . give thanks in all circumstances.”

And the Thessalonians themselves knew about rejoicing in suffering. From the time they first believed they suffered. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” They suffered but they had joy.

Finally, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. They had undergone persecution and the writer reminds them of this in 10:34, “ . . . you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Can you imagine having all your goods hauled away because of your faith – your big screen TV, your new dining set, your couches? Would you be able to keep things in perspective and still be joyful?

Why we can rejoice in all circumstances

– including when we suffer. As I said last week it certainly can’t be based on our feelings, these change all the time. It has to be based on something much stronger and more stable – our faith. So here are 5 aspects of our faith that show us why we can do this:

1. God is worthy of praise – period. Nothing else needs to be said. Whether we feel like praising God or not – God is worthy. Whether we are in good times or in bad times, it doesn’t matter. God is still the same – yesterday, today and forever and is still worthy of our praises.

Apart from anything God may or may not do for me; apart from whether God allows me to go through good times or bad, God is worthy of praise for who God is. God is awesome! God is holy! God is good! None of this changes based on our circumstances.

Habakkuk the prophet lived in a difficult time. The people were unfaithful to God. And he knew that judgment was coming – things were going to get worse. But he praised God anyway, because God deserves to be praised. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord . . ..” I believe that this is the purest form of praise to God because it s not dependent on something that we get from God.

2. God has blessed us in many ways. Even in the worst of times, if we are able to think about it, we can recognize that this is true.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . ..” You have been given the gift of life. Also think about your abilities, your strengths, your family, your friends, your home – whatever good thing you are or have is from God.

And this includes our salvation – God’s grace and mercy to us in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of our sins, new life by the Spirit, a relationship with God, fellow believers who walk with us, strength and peace in difficult times – all these are gifts from God as well.

And so despite whatever else may be going on we can give thanks for God’s blessing to us.

3. Our hope for the future. God allows each of us to go through hard times, and a part of this is simply living in this sinful and broken world where evil is normal. But in the midst of this as Christians we have a hope for something better. This life is not all that there is. In fact, we are to live for the life that is to come, not this one.

When Jesus talked about suffering for our faith; being reviled and slandered, he said, “Rejoice and be glad” Why? “For your reward is great in heaven . . .” – Matthew 5:12.

In 1 Peter 1:6 Peter tells his readers that “now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials.” Just before this he said, “in this you rejoice.” Why do they rejoice in their trials? It is because of what he had just mentioned in vs. 4-5. They have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven . . . a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This hope puts things in perspective for us as Christians. Yes, we will suffer in this life. But we will be blessed in the world to come.

And in fact the blessing will outweigh the sufferings. Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” – Romans 8:18. Similarly he says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. Our suffering may well be great, but what awaits us is far greater.

4. God harnesses trials for our good. We go through fiery trials. This is an image that is used in Scripture. And it makes a point. Fire can consume or it can refine. If we go through the fire in faith we will not be consumed. Rather, God uses them to refine and purify us.

God is able to bring good out of pain, suffering and tears. This doesn’t mean that God causes the pain, only that God is greater than whatever evil befalls us.

Paul makes this point in Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is able to work in and through all that happens to us to bring some good to us.

James tells his readers, “Count it all joy” when you suffer various kinds of trials. Why? “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4.

Along the same lines, Paul says, “. . . we rejoice in our sufferings.” Why? “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . .” – Romans 5:3-4.

The world will throw hard times at us left and right. But when we endure them in faith, God brings something good out of them for us. That’s how great God is. And we can give thanks for this.

William Higgins

 

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 Today we begin a series of teaching on Jesus’ second coming.

Now there are lots of debates about exactly how this will all unfold. For instance, what happens just before or after Jesus returns. And these discussions will continue on and people of good faith will disagree. That’s not our focus today.

Our focus is: What we have to look forward to when Jesus returns.

Scripture tells us that in our lives in this world we will have trials and tribulations. It will not always be easy.
We will suffer. We will experience disappointment, discouragement, even despair at times.

Yet as Christians we know and believe that there is hope for our future. Lets look at this . . .

1. Jesus will return

As bad as the world is around us; as much as it is broken and full of evil and seemingly beyond hope of repair – certainly with regard to what God’s will is for it – we know that there is one who is coming who will fix it.

Jesus said about himself, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father . . .” – Matthew 16:27. He also said, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” – Mark 13:26.

 Paul said it this way, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

Jesus has not left us to ourselves. He will come. And he will come through on his promises to us.
 Here are several notes about his coming:

  • It will be a literal, bodily return – Acts 1:11. The angels said to the disciples, ‘Just as you saw him ascend into heaven (with his resurrection body), so will he return in the same way.’
  • Everyone will see him return – as Jesus said in Luke 17:24, “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” He is countering here the idea that his coming will be a spiritual or secret return that only a few will know about (Luke 17:23; also Matthew 24:23-26). He is saying there will be nothing hidden about it. No one will be able to miss it.
  • It will be glorious – Mark 13:26 & Matthew 16:27. As we saw from these verses, he will come “with great power and glory” and “with his angels in the glory of his Father . . ..” It will not be like the humble infant born in a manger, who lived in poverty and was unjustly killed. He will come with the splendor and majesty of the king that he is.

2. Jesus will rule over the earth

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you . . . the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne” – Matthew 19:28. This throne speaks to his rule as King over the earth.

It is at this time that our prayer – “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will be truly and completely fulfilled.

Now a part of his rule has to do with judging. Jesus said, “the Son of Man is going to come . . . and then he will repay each person according to what he or she has done.” – Matthew 16:27.

This is when what Jesus said in Luke 14:11 will come true, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • Those who are on top now because of evildoing and oppression will be put down.
  • Those who are on the bottom now because of righteousness and commitment to Jesus will be raised up and blessed.

King Jesus will right all wrongs and bring true justice and peace to the world.

3. We will be resurrected

In Mark 13:27 Jesus says about himself, “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” The angels will “gather” us up, a common (harvesting) metaphor for the resurrection in the teaching of Jesus.

As Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

  • Christians who have already died will be raised first, and then
  • Christians who are still alive at Jesus’ return will be given new resurrection bodies

Resurrection means that our earthly bodies will be transformed. Paul says that Jesus will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”- Philippians 3:21.

Our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ supernatural body and like the bodies that angels have. We will be able to appear and disappear. We can eat food, but we don’t have to.

Resurrection also, of course, means that we will be immortal. Paul said, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” – 1 Corinthians 15:52-53.

We will experience the full reality of Jesus’ defeat of death. Our new bodies will live forever, without suffering. What a blessed change this will be!

4. There will be a huge celebration

This is called the Messianic banquet; an end time celebration for the faithful, with Jesus.

Jesus said of this, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 8:11. He also talked about his disciples eating and drinking, “at my table in my kingdom” – Luke 22:30.

This is what he said at the last supper, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26:29. Think of it. He is waiting in heaven to celebrate with us!

This is also pictured as a wedding banquet: For instance in the parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 22:1-14 and also in Revelation 19:9 which says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.” It’s going to be an amazing party!

5. We who have been faithful will be rewarded

We will be “blessed.” This is the message of the beatitudes in Luke 6 & Matthew 5. As the word indicates, we will be happy, blissful and fully and truly contented. And with good reason!

  • The eternal kingdom will be ours. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • We will see God. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We will be close to God and be able to be in God’s presence.
  • We will have joy with Jesus. Matthew 25:21 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master.”
  • We will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” [Now, although it is often thought that we will spend eternity in heaven, the reality is that God made us for this earth and it is our destiny to be here. It would be better to say that when Jesus returns – heaven will come down to earth. This is also pictured in another way in Revelation 21. We do not go up to be in the new Jerusalem. It comes down out of heaven, and it says that now God dwells with us, that is, on earth.]

So, all of these rewards will be ours. God will give us the earth, we will have joy with Jesus, we will see God, and possess the kingdom forever. We will indeed be blessed!

6. We who have been faithful will rule with Jesus over the earth

As we see in the parable of Luke 19:17 & 19, those who serve Jesus while he is gone with their various assignments, will receive various levels of rule, based on their service.

Paul says it plainly – “If we endure, we will also reign with him” – 2 Timothy 2:12.

In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 he gets more specific about this rule. He asks the Corinthians – “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” That is, the people that have lived on the earth. And also he asks, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” These are beings that are beyond our understanding and yet we will be involved in judging them.

7. All things will be made new

What Jesus will do will extend even to the entirety of the cosmos – the heavens and the earth.

Jesus talks about “the new world,” when he comes in Matthew 19:28. Literally, it means the “regeneration.” Another translation renders it “the renewal of all things.”

Romans 8:21 talks about this and says, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In other words, it will be made new and glorious just like our bodies will be new and glorious.

John saw this prophetically in Revelation 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . ..”

So the message today is, whatever your circumstances are, and this earthly life can be both difficult and cruel, as Christians we have something to look forward to.

To summarize Paul from I Corinthians 2:9 – what God has prepared for us who love him is:

  • beyond what any eye has seen
  • it is beyond what any ear has heard
  • it is beyond what the human heart can even imagine

That is what we have to look forward to. This is our hope.

And it is this that keeps our current struggles in perspective as we remember the bigger picture.  And this is what gives us the strength to move forward, faithfully following Jesus in the midst of our difficulties.

William Higgins

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Good News of a Great Joy

I want us to think briefly on a theme that was interwoven throughout our program today and the Christmas story itself, and that theme is joy.

This comes from Luke 2:10-11.  The angel of the Lord came to the shepherds and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord.’”

We live in a world that is often not joy inducing. Just look at the headlines on any day, in any given paper and you will see stories and pictures of suffering, injustice, and death. And in our own lives we all experience our share of pain, sadness and even despair at times . And because of this – – – we often struggle with joy.

And yet the angel of the Lord comes and says, “I bring you good news of a great joy.”

(more…)

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Someone once said that the Christian teaching on sin is the one Christian teaching that can be empirically verified . . . you can just look around with your own eyes and see its true. You don’t need faith to see all the wrongdoing, evil and the lack of love in this world. You just need to turn on the daily news – or just look in the mirror. And I say this last part because . . .

Sin is something we have all done

All of us have acted rebelliously against God, doing what is right in our own eyes instead of listening to our Maker. And all of us have injured others through our actions and our words – or perhaps by not doing or saying what we should have. It is just as Paul says in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned.”

And we must recognize that sin has disastrous consequences:

Sin destroys our relationship with God. In Isaiah 59:2 the prophet tells us, “. . . your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you . . ..” We can’t have a relationship with God when we are knowingly choosing to do wrong and sinful things.

Sin also destroys us. Although at the time (right?) we think – “hey, this isn’t so bad” or “this will get me out of a difficult spot.” But we really do end up paying a price.

  • We experience guilt & shame (unless our heart).
  • We are given over to the power of sin. This is God’s judgment. God says, “I don’t want this for you, but if that’s what you want, I will let you have it . . . But its gonna take over your life.” Sin works like a drug addiction. It seems pleasing at first and then it takes over our lives.
  • We experience the misery of sin, as the “other shoe” drops and we start reaping the results of our actions.
  • We are overwhelmed by death. James 1:15 says, “Sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.” Sin destroys us.

So if this is where you find yourself today – alienated from God and suffering under the misery of sin,  whether you call yourself a Christian or not, I want to tell you . . .

How to find forgiveness

 . . . how to be set free from this downward spiral; how to be released from the power and the penalty of sin. Let’s look at this:

Step #1: Look to God – God has provided the way for us to be forgiven and there is no other way:

  • we can’t work our way out of the problem, trying to earn our own forgiveness
  • we can’t compensate for it by being really good in some other area of our life
  • we can’t pay the psychiatrist enough or go to enough therapy to get rid of the root problem of our sin
  • no pharmaceutical prescription will give us forgiveness
  • no self-help program or the latest self-help book
  • and no false religion can do it.

God has provided the way, and that way is Jesus.

Jesus, looking ahead to his death on the cross said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” – Matthew 26:28. Without getting into all that he is saying here, the key for us is that his death brings us “the forgiveness of sins.”

Look to God, for Jesus is the way to find forgiveness.

Step #2: Confess your sins to God. Psalm 32:3-5 talks about how when the writer kept silent about his sins he was miserable. And then v. 5 says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” 

You can see the connection between confession and forgiveness. There was no release, only misery, until there was confession.

Like in the Psalm, the natural human response is to hide our sins, to find excuses, or to focus on others’ faults. We want to live in denial. But if we want to be free, we have to be completely honest with God. Look, God already knows everything you’ve done – Why try to hide it? You have to come clean with God.

As Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Now a part of confession is that you take responsibility for your sins; you own them. They are yours. It is what you have chosen; it what you have done. We don’t like it, but that’s a part of what confession means. 

David’s prayer to God in Psalm 51:3-4 is a model for us. After he had committed horrible sins he prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you . . . have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” He’s saying, I did it and the consequences are my fault.

Step #3: Express your sorrow. If we see things rightly, we come to understand that our actions – our sins – have caused God and others pain. And this should cause us to feel badly for what we have done against God and others.

  • Paul talks about “godly sorrow” in  2 Corinthians 7:8-10.
  • David spoke of his “broken and contrite heart” after his sin in Psalm 51:17.
  • James says to those who have sinned, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” – James 4:9. James is saying, “Feel it!”

There is an emotional component to this that can be healing both to us and for those we have wounded through our actions as they see our sorrow.

Express your sorrow for the wrongs you have done.

Step #4: Turn from your sin. Turn away from it and commit to do God’s will from now on.

  • Proverbs 28:13 says, “he who . . . forsakes his transgressions will obtain mercy.”
  • Ezekiel 18:30-32 says, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. . . Turn then, and live.”

A part of this turning is that you commit to make things right with others – as best you can.

  • If you have sinned against others, seek peace with them, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:23-24.
  • If you have harmed them in a way that can be restored, make amends to them, just as Zacchaeus said in Luke 19:8, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” He tried to make it right.

Step #5: Ask God to forgive your sins. Ask for God’s mercy. Just as the tax collector in the story of Luke 18:13 – prayed, pray “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

The prayer of David in Psalm 51:1-2 is a good pattern for us – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;  according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

Forgiveness is a gift of God to us and you need to ask for it. Just as Jesus says in Matthew 7:7 about all of God’s good gifts to us – “Ask, and it will be given to you.” 

Step #6: Claim God’s promise by faith. We know that God always keeps his promises, so we can claim his promise to forgive us and know that God will do just as he says he will do.

Here is a promise to hold on to – “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – I John 1:9.

Claim this and stand on it! God is faithful and just and he will do it.

Finally let me just say that if you take these six steps . . .

You can have joy

 . . . from knowing that:

Your sins are covered – Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
God doesn’t count your sin against you anymore – Psalm 32:2 says, “Blessed is the person against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.”
God doesn’t remember your sin against you anymore – Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God casts your sins away – Micah 7:19 says, “God will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
God removes your sins far away – Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
God erases your sin – Isaiah 43:25 says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.”

All of these are just different ways of saying the same thing – our sins are gone!  Think of it – your sins will no longer separate you from God and your sins will no longer destroy you. As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you want to be free of the misery of sin? Do you want to have a relationship with God? Do you want to know the joy that forgiveness and new life brings? Well, you have to act! You have to do something. God has already acted in Jesus, and he is waiting on you. Follow the six steps. Act to find forgiveness and new life. William Higgins

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