Sunday, October 30, 2016

Talking to God: Temptation

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Over the last two weeks, we looked at forgiveness. To get to forgiveness, we must recognize that we have sinned. We ask for forgiveness from our past sin. Now that we have done so, we ask for protection from future sin.

The reality is, temptation will always be with us. The closer we draw to Jesus Christ, the more the devil will tempt us. Our goal as Christians is Christ-likeness, and so we should expect the same things that Jesus experienced. Right as he was to begin his ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Hebrews 4:15, in describing Jesus as our high priest says this: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus has been tempted in every way, but he did not give in to temptation. Sometimes Christians believe that temptation itself is sinful, so if we have sinful thoughts or sinful urges, we can be overcome by guilt and shame. Temptation itself is not a sin. But when we give in to temptation, we sin. Temptation is a tricky subject. Does God cause it, or not?

Our language can confuse us in this manner. When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” some could think this would mean that without such a prayer, God might lead us into temptation. But James 1:13-15 tells us Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 

So it isn’t that God is tempting us. A negative request does not mean that the positive is to otherwise be expected. If a husband says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me” — he doesn’t necessarily assume she will leave him.

So asking God not to lead us into temptation does not necessarily infer that God might otherwise lead us into temptation. That said, God sometimes does lead us into times of testing. In our Bible study this week, we started looking at the book of James, where we learned to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of all kinds, because it is through those trials that our faith is formed, developing into perseverance, which must finish its work to make us mature and complete, not lacking in anything (James 1:4). 

The reality is, God allows us to go through testing, which perfects our faith. But as 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

So when we ask God to deliver us from temptation, we are in fact asking God to deliver us through it. To help us bear up under it. To escape it and endure it without sin. We need God’s help and protection, for the devil seeks to lead us astray. So we ask God to deliver us from the evil one. 

Know that when God delivers us, He actually expects something from us. It’s a prayer that we ask of God but that God expects us to do something as well. We can’t just sit back and say “well, I asked God to deliver me from the evil one, so I don’t have to do anything.” There are some people who continually put themselves in places of temptation. If something tempts you, don’t stay around it. Ask God to help you avoid it. For example, shortly after our marriage, we had a neighbor who was into drugs. They tried to get clean, but they kept all the same friends, those who were into the drug scene. So if you can imagine, the temptation was too hard to overcome.

This is a good area in which the church can be the church. Sometimes we just let someone struggle and fail, all on their own. We don’t even know when someone is struggling with temptation. Part of the brilliance of John Wesley’s system was that every Methodist met in a small group. We were never meant to be Christians all on our own. And one reason God put us into community is to encourage one another. Help keep one another accountable. We have to be real with one another for this to happen, admitting to one another where we need help. James 5:16 reminds us to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This also relates to temptation. When we admit to one another that we’re tempted in a certain area, we can help one another keep clear of that temptation. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Talking to God: Forgiving Others

Last week we looked at God’s forgiveness. How it is God’s character from which forgiveness flows. Because of who God is, and because of what Jesus did for us, God grants us forgiveness. God’s grace is not cheap. He has consistently blessed his people to be a blessing to others. And when God forgives us, he links his forgiveness to how we forgive others. 

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

So God requires us to forgive. In Matthew 18:21, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him, He generously suggested seven times. The rabbis said three times was enough. If someone wronged you, you were expected to forgive them three times. But Peter was more generous. He suggested up to seven times, the perfect number of completion. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Then he told a parable about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed him thousands of dollars, years and years wages. He was not able to pay, so the master ordered that he and his family and everything they had be sold to repay the debt. The servant begged him to relent, and the master took pity on him and canceled the debt. But when the same servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him a few kwacha, he choked him and beat him and demanded his money. When the fellow servant couldn’t pay, he had him thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.

In Matthew 18:32-35, Jesus finishes. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Many times we expect someone else to make the first move, to make things right first, and then we will forgive them, but Jesus demonstrates that our forgiveness of others stems from God’s forgiveness of us. Because God forgave us a debt that we could not pay, we are to forgive others.

There is no question about God’s will in forgiveness. God wills his followers to forgive others. If you do not forgive, you are disobeying God. Plain and simple. But I recognize that it is not simple to forgive.

I recognize that for most of us, forgiveness does not come naturally. I had an experience with a colleague where he had wronged me and I had no intention of forgiving him. After all, he was the one who had wronged me! But forgiving someone does not mean we excuse the person who wronged us. Instead, we admit that we were hurt. They were wrong. We do not have to tolerate the wrong they did in order to forgive. We don’t have to understand why they did it, and we don’t have to forget what they did. And most of all, we do not have to invite them to hurt us once again. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. Sometimes reunion is impossible, and sometimes it is harmful. 

While the best possible outcome would be for restoration, sometimes that does not happen. You see, forgiveness is not always about the interaction with the other person. It is an internal change of heart, by which we take the evil that has been done to us and we relinquish our right to revenge. We give it up to God, but we do not surrender our right for justice. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.

So, how do we forgive? Forgiveness starts with us wanting to forgive. In the case I told you about earlier, when my colleague wronged me, I didn’t want to forgive him. But in my prayers, I asked God to help me want to want to forgive him. It was shortly after that when I was able to do so, and after that, I found my feelings changing. I was in a place where I despised him. I got angry even just to hear his name. But as I prayed, I found that hatred diminishing. I stopped praying that bad things would happen to him, and I found those wishes diminishing. Soon I started praying that good things happen to him. But the desire for this change didn’t come from me. It came from the Holy Spirit.

We all must remember this about forgiveness: It is not optional. It is a command from God. And God tells us that he will dispense forgiveness in the same manner as we do. But  besides that, forgiveness is good all in itself. 

Forgiveness is a sign that you are truly a Christian. When we don’t, we set ourselves up as the judge and the jury. Essentially, we set ourselves up as above God. But forgiveness is an act of trust in God, that God will deliver justice, that we don’t have to. We imitate Jesus Christ’s example; even as he was being crucified, he said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). 

Forgiveness further frees our conscience of guilt. Unforgiveness interferes with peace of mind happiness, satisfaction, and even proper functioning of the body. This gives Satan a foothold in our hearts.

Forgiveness benefits the entire church. The Holy Spirit does not work freely among those who carry grudges and harbor resentment. Psalm 66:18 reminds us that “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sometimes we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered, and meanwhile, we are harboring unforgiveness in our hearts. 

And when we forgive, we activate God’s forgiveness. God deals with us as we deal with others, so he instructs us to forgive others as freely and graciously as God forgives us.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). Alone with God (pp. 106–108). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

God created us to be in right relationship with Him and thus in right relationship with others. When we withhold forgiveness, we break relationship, not only with other people, but also with God. But when we forgive, we restore relationship with God. Whether the relationship with the other person is restored is partially up to them, but we have done our part, our Christian duty. And God rewards it every time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Talking to God: Forgive us!

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

After we give God the proper respect, Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, remembering that we rely on God for everything. This is a prayer for our physical needs as well as spiritual, remembering that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.” (John 6:35) 

We continue today, asking for God’s intervention. Today we will begin looking at forgiveness. Forgiveness means freeing someone from guilt and its consequences, including punishment, usually as a act of compassion or love, with the aim of restoring a broken relationship. Forgiveness can involve the cancellation of both punishment and debt. Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

We ask God to forgive our trespasses. Now, I don’t know how it works going from English to local languages, but in English itself, even while praying the Lord’s Prayer, different churches pray it different ways. Some people say “trespasses” while others say “debts” and others simply say “sins.” One reason why this is confusing is because in their Gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke use different words. Luke says “hamartia” which means “missing the mark” — when we sin, we miss the mark of God’s standard of righteousness.

But Matthew uses the word “opheilema” which means “moral or spiritual debts.” In this case, sin is a moral or spiritual debt to God that must be paid. 

When we ask God to forgive us we recognize that there is a debt that must be paid. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. The fair payment for sinning against God is death. So by rights, if we have sinned, we deserve death. That is the punishment and the debt.

We must also recognize that there is no other way we can pay our debt to God. Living without forgiveness is living under the shadow of death and justified guilt.  So forgiveness is our greatest need, because without it, we hold on to our sin, and sin separates us from God. In the here-and-now, and in eternity. 

As a result of our sin, we owe to God a debt that we are completely unable to pay. This is where Jesus comes into the equation. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This proves God’s love for us.  When we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, God forgives us. Our sin is transferred to Jesus, and He takes our punishment upon himself on the cross. Sin was what happened, and death was its payment. God’s wrath against sin is satisfied by Jesus’ sacrifice.

At that moment when we trust Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. We are justified, which means we are made just as if we had never sinned. Our sin is actually taken away, and we are made right with God. That is what righteousness means — being in right relationship with God. This forgiveness comes from God’s character. God is described in Exodus 34:6 and following as, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.’

So, since our relationship with God is made right at our salvation, what happens if we sin after we are saved? 1 John 1:8 reminds us that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So we’ve sinned. What do we do? Do we have to be saved all over again? No. the next verse, 1 John 1:9 continues: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive sour sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. So our response is confession. And God’s response to us is forgiveness.

God makes us right with himself, and we celebrate this fact! Next week we will look at how we are to respond to God’s forgiveness.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Who is Invited to Supper?

1 Corinthians 11:23-29
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

As a child, I remember playing outside with my friends in the evening, having so much fun, and then we’d hear a familiar sound. One by one, front doors would open and mothers would come out to the front step and call their children in to eat. It was understood in our neighborhood that when the neighbor’s mother called, the neighbor child went home. We each went to our own homes to eat. Unless there had been specific arrangements made beforehand, we were not invited to eat at our friends’ houses.

There have been many questions over the year as to who is invited to the Lord’s Supper. In some denominations, if you were not baptized in their church, you are not invited. Generally, churches require someone to be a Christian to participate. 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, got into trouble over who was invited to Communion. When he went to Georgia, in America, on a mission trip, he began a relationship with a woman named Sophy Hopkey. She suddenly married someone else, and Wesley denied her Communion! The issue grew, and it led to John Wesley slipping out of the colony and returning to England, humbled. 

So who is invited? 
The United Methodist Communion liturgy begins this way: Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.

If anyone who falls into this category is invited, we must come in a worthy manner. For we see from scripture that anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner is guilty of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Who then is worthy? John Wesley required his Methodists to present a ticket in order to partake of Communion. This ticket was given at their class meeting, their small group meeting. If you didn’t attend small group, you didn’t get Communion. His rationale: he could tell if someone was intentionally positioning themselves to grow in Christ by their willingness to participate in a small group. These groups met weekly to confess their sins to one another and to pray for one another, just as James 5 commands. 

The church in Corinth was facing an issue where people were treating the Lord’s Supper as a common meal, and not even doing that very well. Some people were coming and eating their fill, meaning if you were later in line, you might not get any. In those days, the cup was always wine - unfermented grape juice was not available yet - and some people were getting drunk! There was no reverence or order to the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says this is wrong. When you take the Lord’s Supper in this way, it is a mockery of Christ, whose body was broken and blood shed for all, not just for a few.

So we examine ourselves and confess our sins, and when we do so, Christ is gracious and forgives us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That proves God’s love for us.

God’s love for us was demonstrated by a specific act in the past, but it continues today, and will culminate in the future. Whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. This action is a look back to our past, what Jesus did for us. We are reminded of the importance of this historical action. Jesus died on the cross, once and for all. But this passage subtly reminds us that Communion also compels us to look forward. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We are looking forward to the time when Jesus will return. This is a certainty, not just a hope. Jesus is coming back. 

How does this effect our taking of Communion? The history reminds us of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us. The future compels us to positive action. We know that Jesus saved us, and we evaluate ourselves and confess our sins, knowing what Jesus saved us from. But we also strive forward toward holiness and Christian perfection, toward which Christ calls us. And we can be confident of this, that he who began this good work in us will be faithful to carry it on to completion until Jesus returns.