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Friends, several people have ask that I post the manuscript from my sermon from yesterday, March 3.  It addresses the need for us to deal with our sin before it deals with us.  It also includes some personal information about my struggle with a particular sin, which I have confessed, repented of, and ask God and the congregation at Kishwaukee Community Church for forgiveness and the forgiveness.  This is one of the most difficult sermons I have ever preached.  However, I am grateful I have done so.  Pastor Rus

Developing a Heart for God, 1: Dealing with Your Sin

Ezekiel 36:22-30 and Hebrews 3:12-13

March 3, 2013

Pastor Rus Howard, Kishwaukee Community Church

Ezekiel 36:22–30

22 Say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 

24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 

26 I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and to be careful to obey my rules. 

28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.” 

Hebrews 3:12–13

12 Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

===

In 1999, the Confessing Church Movement in the PCUSA which led to the formation of the New Wineskins Association of Churches, which led to Kishwaukee Church’s decision to become members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church began with a simple radio interview broadcast on WORD-FM in Pittsburgh, PA.

A woman in her mid 20’s was being interviewed about decisions she made which had recently transformed her life.  In the interview she tells the story of many single women in their 20’s.  She was raised Christian, was in love, and was living with her boyfriend.  However, she was not happy.  She decided that she needed God back in her life and went to worship at the local PCUSA Presbyterian Church, which she said was filled with warm and gracious people.  She did not hide the fact that she was living with her boyfriend, which we use to call, living-in-sin.  No one was bothered by her decision.  The congregation loved on her and the Pastor did not bat an eye when she went to him for counseling about what was wrong with her life.  She did not feel close to God and life was not any better, even though she had been worshipping at the church for a year.  Her live-in boyfriend did not worship with her.

One week someone invited her to attend another, more biblically conservative congregation.  The members were as loving and gracious as they were in the PCUSA congregation.  However, when she went to the Pastor of this church for counseling, looking for wisdom about how to feel closer to God and how to have a less difficult life, he responded differently to her admission of living with her boyfriend.

He essentially told her, God cannot bless you as long as you are living with your boyfriend.  You are more attached to your sin, than you are to God.  There is no room for God in your heart.  That’s why you do not feel close to Him and why you are having difficulties in your life.

He then told her, “You need to tell your boyfriend to move out, tonight.”

That evening she told her boyfriend that he needed to move.  She had doubts about doing something so radical.  Two years later she was on the radio rejoicing not only in her closeness to God, sense of His presence with her, and the changes in her heart, but the multitude of problems which had beset her life for years had ended.

Her story constantly reminds me of this truth: “If we do not deal with our sin, our sin will deal with us!”

While we naturally turn to the New Testament to read how God has chosen to deal with our sin, for those who come to Him, I frequently turn to Ezekiel 36 because I love the way it tells us how God helps us deal with our sin.

Sin corrupts and sickens our heart.  Sin leads to heart disease.  The more we cling to our sin, the worse our heart disease.  God’s desire is to cure your heart disease.

In Ezekiel 36:22-36 God promises that He will do all the work necessary to get get your heart healthy.  He has a plan to cure your heart disease and to deal with your sin:

  • He has promised to give you a new heart (Ez 36:26).
  • He has promised to cleanse your heart (Ez 36:24-25).  This cleansing will wash away your idols.  Your idols are you and the sins you hang onto for dear life.
  • He has promised that along with your new heart, cleansed of your sin, He will give you a new Spirit (Ez 36:26).

I love the language here … God says:

I will take you …

I will sprinkle you …

I will cleanse you …

I will give you …

I will put in you …

If you listened to your English or language arts teacher for only 5 minutes anytime between the 2nd grade and the 12th grade, you will know that God has promised to do all the work for you.  He is the actor, you are the recipient.

God is promising to give you a gift, which all you need to do is receive.  It’s like Christmas without having to buy gifts for anyone else.  It’s like a birthday party, but God is doing all the giving.

God is wanting to give you great things, a new heart and a new spirit.

There are two reasons God wants to give you a new heart and spirit.

First and foremost, if you re-read Ezekiel 36:22-23, He is doing this for His name’s sake, for His glory, for His honor, so that the world will see His holiness.  While it is humbling that God wants to do great things for us for His names sake, rather that because we are so wonderful, let’s rejoice that we are beneficiaries of His desire to prove the holiness of His great name by transforming us with His love and grace. (Ez 36:22)

If you are not numbed by your familiarity with Psalm 23 then you at least know God always acts on His behalf.  Psalm 23:3 reads, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

God has promised to act on your behalf for a secondary reason.  Being second in God’s heart, just after Him, is a great place to be.  After His love for Himself, you are God’s next love.  I like knowing this.  It helps me feel better about myself.

The secondary reason for God promising you a new heart is that your current heart is like a stone, it is cold, dead, lifeless, devoid of love, compassion, and feeling.  If your cardiologist said, “Your heart is like a stone” you would not hear him because you’d be dead.

Without the new heart God wants to give you, you are dead to God.  Periodically, we hear someone say about a family member or former close friend, “He is dead to me!”  If you say this about someone you are recognizing that while the individual is still physically alive, you abhor that person, you hate them, you despise them, you have rejected them 100% with absolutely no chance of them ever meaning anything to you again in your life.

But God’s feelings and desires for you are the total opposite of this.  Instead of you being dead to Him and suffering the consequences of God’s curse, He wants you to have a heart which is alive to Him and in His love.  God does not want to say, “You are dead to me!”  Instead God wants to say, ”You are my people, and I am your God!” (Ez 36:28).

Not only does God desire to be your God, He wants to bless you with abundant provisions which will sustain you the rest of your earthly life.  He makes this promise in Ezekiel 36:29-30.  He wants you to be rich in His blessings of land, grain, and fruits.

God wants you to be able to sing Psalm 23:1 at the top of your lungs: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want!”

This is what God desires for you.  It was His desire yesterday, it is His desire today, and it will be His desire for you into His eternity.

What do you need to do to receive all of this?

Accept His gift, let Him do His work!

Have you ever been forced to receive a gift from someone whom you do not wish to receive a gift?  Of course you have, we all have.

Each of us painfully remembers what we felt when someone we hate, despise, don’t like, with whom we are angry, and towards whom we have a cold heart.  When this person shows up at our house with a gift, any gift, but worse yet a lavish gift of love, we stand before them frozen.

You say to yourself: “I don’t want this.  I don’t want a gift from you.  Please take it away because if I accept the gift, I will have to love you and I will have to make room for you in my heart and I do not want to do that!”

Jesus taught us that the Greatest Commandment in life is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

If I asked each one of you,“Do you love God?” I am confidant that each of you would say, “Yes!”

However, if I asked you if, “Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” and you told me “Yes”, I am not sure I would believe you.  I would not believe myself, if I said Yes to you if you asked me this question today.

My disbelief may offend you, but let’s be honest.  All of us love ourselves and a few other things in this world, more than we love God.  It’s part of our human condition.  Remember Romans 3:23, “We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.”  Our first and foremost sin is that God is not our number one love.  This is our heart disease … God is not our first love!

When the Holy Spirit inspired to John to write the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Spirit told John to write to the church at Ephesus saying:

“You guys are doing a great job being faithful to so many of my ways. You can recognize a false apostle from a mile away, you have the patience of a saint, you have endured hardship and suffering without whining, and you even hate those people who endorse believers marrying non-believers and who write-off sexual immorality as an insignificant offense against me.”

If I heard these accolades from God, I’d be smiling a mile.  But, then God lowers the hammer when He tells John to also write:

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had for me at first.”

Haven’t we all.  Our sin is self-love.  Our sin is idolizing the self!  Our sin is self-indulgence!  Our sin, in whatever shape or form it has taken up residence in our heart prevents us from loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said,

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Our sin is that we have loves which prevent us from serving God as lord of our life.  If you think you are exempt, remember the Call to Confession used earlier in today’s worship, it is from 1 John 1:8, 9

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Ours heart are diseased because of our sin.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews exhorts us to deal with our sin.  In our world which approves of doing anything we want this is a tough truth for us to practice, even in the church.  Listen again to what the writer of the Hebrews said:

Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

The writer of Hebrews makes two specific points:

  • A heart filled with sin and evil can become an unbelieving heart;
  • A heart filled with sin can become a hardened heart, a stone cold heart, dead to God.

A heart tainted by sin will reject God’s gift of mercy and grace.  It will reject God’s new heart and new spirit.  It will reject life in order to cling to the sin it loves, even when the sin is killing it.

His exhortation is clear.  Either deal with the sin which has captured your heart or sin will deal with you!

I have told you this today not only because it is The Truth and it is a Word for all of us, but it has become a Word specifically for me.

For several months I have been wrestling with God about a particular sin which set up camp in my heart before I cam to Kishwaukee, but which did not reveal it’s ugliness until after I began my ministry here at Kish.

Last week my brother in Christ Jim Yearsley and this week my Spiritual Advisor Hope Parks, God convicted me that I must confess and repent of this sin, confess and ask your forgiveness because this sin has hurt my ministry here at Kish.

My sin has diseased my heart.

For the past 6-8 months I have been struggling mightily with a multitude of stuff in my life.  For a long time I was convinced that my struggle was related to my circumstances, which if changed, would cause my struggles to disappear.  I had developed a long list of circumstances to blame.

This week God convicted me otherwise.  He told me that my struggles are related to the condition of my heart not my circumstances.

My struggle is related to my heart being out of sorts, out of tune, out of sync, with Him and with His heart.  Simply put my heart has wandered from my first love for Him.  I want that love back.  I need it back.  Losing it has come at great cost to me and, I fear, to you.

My sin has held me back from God.  My sin may not sound serious to you, but it has become a millstone for me, pulling me away from God and from people I love, i.e. you.

My sin is a fear of rejection.

All of us fear rejection.  While I fear rejection from my enemies, my friends, and others, the rejection I most fear is rejection by you. I will come back to this in a moment.

I do not fear rejection from God.  I have Romans 8:35, 37-39 down pat:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It sounds good that I do not fear rejection of God.  But this is my problem, I am so fearful that you might reject me, I take very little comfort in knowing that God will not reject me.

My fear of rejection by you has become so overwhelming to me that it is dominating my life.

Furthermore, this fear is paralyzingly my pastoral ministry with you and for you.  If you said to me, “Pastor Rus, I like you, but I don’t know if …” I’d understand.

My fear of being rejected by you me is preventing me from loving you, caring for you, and leading the church, in the way which God intends.

My sin, my fear of rejection by  you or I should say by the members of any church, began before we ever met.  You’d think that after being loved and cared for by you so well for the past 2 1/2 years, I would have overcome my fear of being rejecting by you.  But I have not.  My sin which is my fear, has taken deep root within me and is hurting us.

The skeleton in my closet is I was once betrayed, rejected, by multiple groups of Christians who I knew, loved, and served faithfully in a four year prior to coming to Kish.

I was rejected …

  • By clergy in the PCUSA who I had encouraged and supported in their faithfulness;
  • By members of the Peters Creek Church, people I had pastored well, but who did not want to leave the PCUSA;
  • By staff members who I hired, who I had believed in when no one else did and who I had fought to hire and to keep;
  • By members of the Peters Creek Church whom I had trusted and called close friends after we entered the EPC;
  • By leaders in the New Wineskins Presbytery with whom I worked and fought alongside in the trenches;
  • If this was not enough, I was then rejected by a very close friend of 30 years. Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

The details of how I was rejected or whether I deserved this rejection are insignificant to me anymore.  Nor are these details something which Rori and I desire or plan to discuss in the future.  These are details which God has told us to leave in the past.

What is significant is that their rejection, the rejection of brothers and sisters in the body of Christ was so severe, my family and I, particularly Rori and I lost many of our dreams for our future.

I do not want to be hurt like that again.  I do not want Rori to be hurt like that again.  Three years ago, I promised myself that never again would I allow this to happen to us.

To protect myself from rejection, I have built walls around me.  You may not see walls, but I am sure you have felt them.  Please understand, you are not responsible for my building these walls.  Only I am.

These walls have prevented me from having genuine intimacy with you as your Pastor and friend.  Yet this is an intimacy and friendship for which I am desperate.  As you can imagine, my walls have kept God at bay.  In the process of protecting myself from rejection, I have kept God out of much of my heart.

John says you cannot hate your brother and claim to love God.  My sin, my fear of rejection by you, is a evil and insidious variation of this truth:

You cannot NOT love and not have intimacy with others and have loving intimacy with God!

Please hear what I say next!

It’s not that I do not love you, I love you with all my heart or the part of the heart which does not fear rejection.  I know that you love me.  If I have $100 for every time I have told someone that I am serving the most loving and caring congregation I have ever served, I could retire comfortably.

But here’s my sin, my problem, I have been afraid to love you to the point where if you ever did reject me, it would hurt me.

My focus on self-preservation has grown into a sin with serious ramifications in the 3 most important parts of my life:

  1. Spiritual – My fear has caused me to keep God at bay.  This is the most serious ramification of my sin.
  2. Personal –  I am denying myself the intimacy and friendship which I desire to have with you.  I, like you, need close friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ in my church.  Yes, Kish is my church.
  3. Pastoral – My fear has affected my leadership and service as your Pastor.  Your Elders who are the best group of 12 Elders I have ever worked, can attest to this.  I know that I am frustrating them.  I have been timid and erratic in my leadership.  I have been defensive and have become hyper-sensitive to any whiff of criticism or conflict.  I have been moody.  I have been distant.  I have been afraid to personally engage with you.  I have been like a skittish cat in your presence.  I have been unable to relax as your Pastor.  I have come to realize that even when I am trying to communicate love, compassion, grace, and mercy, I frequently communicate hardness and a harsh judgmental spirit.  I want the old Pastor Rus back, the Pastor Rus which many of you have never seen.

My fear, my sin has not served me well.  C Neil Strait wrote this about sin, which I am afraid has become a fair description of my ministry:

Sin does not serve well as a gardner of the soul. It landscapes the contour of the soul until all that is beautiful has been made ugly; until all that is high is made low; until all that is promising is wasted. Then life is like the desert, parched and barren.  It is drained of purpose.  It is bleached of happiness. Sin then, is not wise, but wasteful.  It is not a gate, but a grave.

I know that once I let God get into my heart again, He is going to take away my fear of rejection and He is going to help me to love you with abandon, as any Pastor should.  But, I hate to say it, but this scares me big time.  Because if I love you with God’s abandon, and if you ever reject me (which I no reason to believe you would), I will be crushed.

This is my sin, it is my problem.  You are not at fault for my fear of rejection.

So what am I doing about this sin which has taken up residence in my heart when God wants full claim to all my heart.

Since my sin, my fear of rejection has affected my ministry for God I must confess my sin, repent of my sin, and ask Him for His forgiveness. I have done this.  I have also asked God to restore my heart.

While I am mindful of the truth of David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51:4, when he prayed:

Against you Lord, you alone, have I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

I am equally mindful that I have sinned against you.

My sin has affected my ministry with you, probably in more ways than I am aware.  I know that my sin has hurt you and has hurt us as a congregation and community of faith.  I apologize that I have clung to the pain of my past and in so doing I have hurt you.  I ask for your forgiveness.  I ask that you will pray for my healing and that I will let God bring His grace to me so I can bring His grace to you.

I am praying that I will let God soften my heart.  I am praying that I will accept His amazing grace and that I unchain myself from my sin, my fear, and that God frees me from hurts of the past.

On Monday, Hope Parks told me to read Deuteronomy 1:6-8 when God spoke these words to Moses:

“Moses, you have stayed long enough at this mountain.  Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country and into the lowland along the sea. I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land, enjoy the blessings I have set before you.”

Hope and Jim, on behalf of God, have been telling me the same:

Rus it is time to move off of your mountain of hurt, anger, bitterness, fear, and shame.  It’s time for you to break camp from your sin, your fear of rejection, and take possession of the good land and the blessings God has set before you.

They have reassured me that once I leave this mountain of bitterness and fear, God’s anointing will penetrate my heart rather than be like water which runs off of hard, dried-out, drought stricken soil and is wasted.

As God’s anointing penetrates me, my head and my heart, I will, again, be filled up with His grace, mercy, love, and acceptance.  Then as His love reigns in all of my heart, in all of my soul, and in all of my mind, He will remove from me my fear of rejection.

Then, like a miracle of biblical proportion, the walls of Jericho which I have constructed with such care, will come tumbling down and we, as Pastor and congregation, as sheep and the over-promoted shepherd, as brothers and sisters in Christ, can walk into His Promised Land together.

This is the work I have to do.  I am not asking for pity or sympathy, but I do want you to understand my struggle.  I need your prayers, your encouragement, and your forgiveness, as I begin this journey from my mountain of pain, bitterness, anger, loss, shame, and fear, to where God wants me to feast with you in the work of His harvest.

Closing prayer

Communion Invitation

For Communion today, instead of the Elders serving you in your seats,

I invite you to coming forward for Communion

Let your coming forward represent your decision

to confess and repent of your sin

to leave the mountain of your sin

in to come to His grace.

As you wait to come forward,

as you are coming forward,

and as you return to your seat,

join the congregation in singing the two songs

as lead by Julia and the Praise Team.

The words will be on the screen.

Remember God’s promise given in the Book of Isaiah:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: 

though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; 

though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Then your eyes shall be opened and your ears unstopped; 

Then you shall leap like a deer, and sing for joy. 

For waters break forth in your wilderness, 

and streams will flow in your desert.”

Benediction

Seven or eight years ago after worshipping with my Dad in my home church, he said to me, “I am concerned for our new Pastor, I really like him, but he does not seem to be connecting with the congregation.”

I said to him, “Dad there are 3 types of pastors.  The professional who does his work very well, but is emotional disengaged from his congregation.  There is the all-in pastor who is fully engaged, in personally caring for his congregation.  Then there is the pastor who use to be all-in, fully engaged personally caring for his congregation.  I will bet money your pastor has been hurt badly.  He’s wounded and he’s trying to protect himself.”

Never did I realize that my words to my Dad would be prophetic words about me.  But they were.  I put the emphasis on the past tense.  I know there may be days when I limp, but it is easier to run when you are not clinging to sin in your heart.

If you are limping because you are clinging to sin in your heart.  Leave the mountain and enjoy the blessings promised in Isaiah:

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; 

the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, 

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

The Lord will give you 

a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, 

the oil of gladness instead of mourning, 

the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; 

that they may be called oaks of righteousness, 

the planting of the Lord, 

that He may be glorified.”

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Two Loves – John 3:16-21

Preaching Notes October 7, 2012

John 3:16–21 (ESV)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

I.  God is Love, but what kind?

World wants God’s love to be …

World treats God’s love as …

The world cheapens any love which …

Love can never be demanded it can only be received. Thus, all love is a gift

So, what is the nature of God’s love?

This passage contrasts two loves …

God’s love for the world

vs

Our love for the world

II.  The 7 Attributes of God’s Love for the World

1. God’s love was preexistent to creation 

Ephesians 1:3–6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

2. God’s love’s is unearned 

John 5:42

I know that you do not have the love of God within you.

1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.

Romans 5:8 and 10

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

3. God’s love is purposeful

Ephesians 1:5

He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

The word “might” expresses design.

If God wanted to destroy/judge us for our sins, He would not have sent Jesus!!

4. The purpose of God’s Love is Salvation

1 John 4:14

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

The Atonement was not the cause, but the effect, of God’s love

The benefit of God’s love is everlasting life.

Why God sent Jesus Christ to us:

1.  To be our Savior, because our sin (love for the world) kills us

2.  To bring life, because God does not wish that we not perish.

The Son of Man came into an already lost and condemned world. He did not come into a neutral world in order to save some and condemn others; he came into a lost world  in order to save.

5.  God’s love is a sacrificial and suffering love

It cost God so much for 3 reasons:

1.  Jesus gave up so much to suffer so much

Philippians 2:6–8

Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

2.  It required He who hates sin to suffer so much for sinners just to prove His love

Men are not easily convinced that God loves them. In order to remove all doubt, he has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, he did not even spare his only-begotten Son. (John Calvin)

3.  His love could only be revealed in fulness on the cross

A suffering love can never be demanded

6.  God’s love is not a condemning love

Romans 1:16–17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Only when we reject God’s love are we condemned

Romans 1:24, 26, and 28:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.

Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind.

When we reject God’s love have not been condemned by lack of faith, but by their sin.

The reason many hate Jesus is their rejection of it leaves them in death

We were already in need of a Savior before God’s Son comes on his saving mission

7.  God’s love must be received in faith because it cannot not be earned (see 2nd attribute)

Jesus’ 3-fold emphasis:

John 3:15

That whoever believes in Jesus may have eternal life.

John 3:16

That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:18

Whoever believes in him is not condemned

God has done His work, we need to receive it in faith, which is belief and trust

III.  Our Love for the World is a love is of darkness

Our love for darkness

Our love for the world is pictured metaphorically in terms of light and darkness

Our love for darkness proves our depravity!

We love darkness because our deeds are evil and we do not want them exposed

We hate God’s sacrificial saving love because it exposes our sin

We hate the light and refuse to come to (near) it because exposes their darkness

To expose someone’s sin summons them to repentance.”

The verb exposed suggests not only exposure but shame and conviction

Jesus (light) exposes our sins 

Revelation 3:19

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Ephesians 5:11

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

1 Timothy 5:20

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

This is why men refuse to read the Scriptures. God’s Word would condemn them.

Instead we desire a pandering and permissive love 

Sweet and permissive love leads to false happiness as it leads to death

We are ashamed of our love for the world

Our denial of our love for the world begins at an early age

Why do babies smile when they poop in their diapers?

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s That Smell

IV.  Those who love God’s love instead of the world’s

Those who love God do the truth

Semitic expression which means to act faithfully or ‘to act honorably

Suggests adherence to the truth as in adhering to Jesus

Those who acknowledge Jesus, recognize the good they do is by the grace of God

While the lover of darkness shuns the light out of fear of exposure, shame and conviction, the lover of light does not prance forward to parade his wares with cocky self-righteousness, rather he comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (DA Carson)

We welcome and receive God’s love not because we are better, but because we desire what God’s love brings salvation and life, rather than what the world’s loves brings which is  condemnation and death

 

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How to Be Born From Above

Preaching Notes  September 30, 2012

John 3:1–18 (ESV)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

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I.    From Problems to Solutions 

God’s Two Desires – Titus 2:14 – Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

God desires salvation and sanctification

Dealing with Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Even the saved keep sinning

Nicodemus and Jesus

An educated old-school enquirer reveals a lack of knowledge and faith

Jesus’ drives the conversation

Seeing and Entering the Kingdom of God

Requires rebirth

II.  What Does It Mean to be Born Anothen

Born again …

Born from above …

Not a new concept – see Ezekiel 36:25-28 and Jeremiah 31:28-31

The old way has not and will not work

Christian hell, fire, and damnation

The importance of worship

God does not want us to fail, thus He helps us to succeed

We have to accept the help

We accept God’s help, through faith, not through personal effort

// kids, I want to do it by myself

III.  How to Be Born from Above

The work of the Spirit – John 3:5-8

A God-initiated transformation of our lives

// to the work of the wind (another word for spirit)

Comes at its will, works at its will

Effects are felt and seen

Powerful effects in small ways

Spirit work predicated on work of Jesus

Jesus promises the Spirit to come after Him

The work of the Son – John 3:10-14

The work of Jesus

To die for the forgiveness of our sins

Nicodemus – knew about need for forgiveness, atonement

This may be part he genuinely did not get

Jesus work predicated on work of God

The work of God – John 3:16-18

The work of God was His love for the world

Generous, gracious, steadfast merciful love

Nicodemus knew – Hesed

These 1st three works built on each other

Revealed by God over time

The work of the Believer – John 3:15, 16, 18

Final work or action ==> salvation

Individual coming to faith in Jesus

Belief or faith – also the work of God

But is one which must be received

Irresistible Grace – core of reformed theology

Faith is a gift received through an open heart

Hard hearts are closed to God’s work

IV.  What about You?

DA Carson

God’s ultimate purpose is the salvation of those in the world who believe in him. Whoever believes in him experiences new birth, has eternal life, and is saved.  The alternative is to perish, to lose one’s life, and to be doomed to destruction. There is no third option

God has done His work, we need to receive it in faith, which is believe and trust

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Behold the Lamb of God – John 1:19-34

Preaching Notes – August 26, 2012

John 1:19-34

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

=====

I.    A World of Questions and Seekers – John 1:19-22

A.  John the Baptist created a stir among the people

B.  Religious leaders needed to know: Who are you?

Messiah … Elijah … Prophet

C.  Who Are You

D.  The Search Continues

Your neighbors, friends, co-worker, strangers, and family

Despite fanfare all truth is relative” – people are seeking Truth

==>  Leaders asking John, “What do you say about yourself?”

II.   John’s Testimony – John 1:24-28

Note the remarkableness of John’s testimony about himself

A.  I am not

John the Baptist, chose not to be a Poser

B.  I am the voice

He downplays his calling and importance by quoting Isaiah

I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!”

At best, I am an announcer

C.  I am not The One

John could have said, “I have been chosen and called by God to ….

In today’s world his publicity director would have said so, but he stuck with his story

I am not The One

D.  I am not worthy

He went so far as to state with humility

I am not worthy to untie the strap on his sandal

Churches known for everything, but pointing people to Jesus

John the Baptist says later, John 3:30: He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease

III.  John’s 3 testimonies about Jesus  – John 1:29, 32-34

After taking the focus off himself John the Baptist, turns the focus to that which is important

The testimony is from God delivered through John (1:33)

A. John’s 1st testimony about Jesus – pointing to Jesus he says:

The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29)

Powerful descriptive language about Jesus

He covers all the critical mass information about Jesus in one sentence

We do not know if everyone fully understood, but he described Jesus in a sentence that when unpacked

=> telling us everything we need to know

When someone asks you, Who is Jesus? What do you say?

The Lamb of God

In Jewish world => many images

Lambs were offered as sacrifices for sins

Of 96 OT references to lambs, 85 are about lambs used is sacrifices

1.  The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)

2. The Scapegoat  from The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)

Upon him all the iniquities of the people.”

3.  The Sacrificial Lamb and Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:7, 10, and12)

A. W. Pink about the teaching of Scripture concerning “the lamb.”

Progressively in the Bible the Lamb is:

Typified, prophesied, slain,personified, identified, magnified, glorified

From another perspective notice the orderly development of for whom the lamb is sacrificed:

For the individual, for the whole household, for the entire nation, and finally for the world

Thus by calling Jesus, “The Lamb of God”

John the Baptist was making an empathic statement about Jesus

B.  John’s other two testimonies

In this passage John declares:

1. In verses 32 and 33 – The Spirit of God dwells on Jesus

2. In verse 34 – Jesus is the Son of God

IV.   Conclusion

In this passage we are taught two critical lessons:

1.  We are to bear witness, not to ourselves, but to Jesus

2.  The best witness begins with

The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

This is what people need, desire, seek

Will you, show them the way

John Calvin wrote:

The principal office of Jesus is that He takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciles men to God. There are other favors which Jesus bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it.  In John 14:6 when John records Jesus saying,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  John leads us back to Christ alone.  By calling Jesus,The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” John is teaching why there is no other way to God because Jesus alone takes away our sin and reconciles us to God.” 

Have you received Jesus as The Lamb of God who takes away YOUR sin?

If, not, you need to do so, today, right now.

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The way you handle your sin 

is as important as the sin itself. (1)

A friend came to me recently to let me know how I had hurt them awhile ago.  Since my offense, our relationship had been broken for them, while I thought all was well.

While I had not intended to hurt them, I had.  This is a common everyday event in all relationships.

When a friend points out our sin to us we have the choice of responding in one of two ways.  We can take offense and defend ourselves or we can humble ourselves and graciously apologize.

Our natural tendency is to defend ourselves, especially when we did not mean to offend.  By doing so, we communicate that our friend, who has come to us in love and with wounds, is wrong, unreasonable, and overly-sensitive.

A defensive response not only exasperates the brokenness within the relationship, but causes the the relationship to quickly descend into a downward spiral.

Why do we do this?  I’ll place my money on pride.  I hate being wrong.  I loathe being told I was wrong.  However, I must confess that my friend did me a great favor.

By listening, I learned that I need to be watch my behavior in a specific situation which causes me stress and frustration as a pastor.  While I did not intend to sin, the manner in which I handled myself was offensive.

I am grateful that my friend came to me.  Their compassionate honesty helped to make me a better pastor.

In the end my sin made me a better person.

Paul reminds us,

“We all sin and fall short of the glory of God … the wages of sin is death.” (2)

Sin does not have to lead to a death.

Grace covers the wages of sins.

When sin is handled with a gracious apology, it leads to life.

+++

  1. Blackaby, Richard (2006-12-01). Experiencing God Day By Day (Kindle Location 3115). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Romans 3:23 and 6:23

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Mercy is a gift. It is undeserved. (1)

With common compassion we redefine words and concepts, using them to please the longings of our hearts.  Mercy, along with grace and justice, are three words which we commonly misuse.

Justice is giving people what they deserve.

Mercy is not giving people what they deserve.

Grace is giving people what they do not deserve.

Consider this scenario:

If a young boy steals a pound of hamburger meat and 5 pounds of potatoes from the grocer, justice is served if the boy is fined and required to pay the grocer for the food.

However, if the grocer learns the boy stole the food to feed his penniless family, then mercy is served if the grocer refuses to press charges against the boy.

If the grocer goes a step further and provides the penniless family with $500 of free groceries, then grace has been served.

Justice is always deserved, mercy and grace are always undeserved.  Mercy and grace are gifts, justice is a consequence.

With this being so, how can we say that God is a God of justice, mercy, and grace?

God is just because all sin is justly punished.

God is merciful because He chose not to inflict the punishment upon the sinner, but upon Jesus.

God is gracious because He forgives us and offers us eternal life, even when we sin.

Christians worship a God who serves justice, mercy, and grace this way:

God is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He does not forsake the sinner.  God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for our sins.  (2)

This is the Good News of the Gospel.

This is news we do not deserve!

+ + +

  1. Blackaby, Richard (2006-12-01). Experiencing God Day By Day (Kindle Locations 3084-3085). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Nehemiah 9:17 and Romans 5:8.

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Life is full of sore testings of our willingness 

to follow the Good Shepherd. (1)  

The greatest of these testings is forgiveness.

We have a limited understanding of forgiveness.  We believe it is grace to be offered only after confession and regret have been spoken.  We believe forgiveness is necessary and possible after only after someone has apologized for hurting us.

This is not God’s way.  

Scripture reminds us that God chose us, loved us, and forgave us while we were still yet sinners. Paul reaffirms God’s love for us and His way of forgiveness in Romans 5:8:

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (2)

This is where God’s way tests us.  

We believe that forgiveness is an earned grace.  

Instead, God’s forgiveness is an unearned grace.

Even if we understand the meaning of this truth in our heads, our hearts find it to be alien material.  This is why we have a hard time forgiving others, extending to them the unearned grace of forgiveness.

We cannot offer forgiveness as unearned grace by our own strength.

If we are to be obedient to God’s way and offer others forgiveness as unearned grace, we need God’s help, His strength.  We need Him working within us.

My Jesus is dwelling in me; and now I have only to let Him work there to will and to do of His good pleasure, in order to experience all the glorious fullness of His mighty salvation! (3)

Let Christ Jesus reign within you.  Only then will He be able to rule all the motions of your heart.  Only then will extending forgiveness as unearned grace be possible.

+ + +

  1. Quote of J. R. Miller found in Samuel G. Hardman and Dwight Lyman Moody, Thoughts for the Quiet Hour (Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998).
  2. he Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 5:8.
  3. Hannah Whitall Smith and Melvin Easterday Dieter, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life : The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

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