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Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19
Gospel song of the 1950s…
You ask me why I’m happy, I’ll tell you the reason why: My sins are gone.
And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are, I say, My sins are gone.
They’re underneath the blood of the cross of Calvary, as far removed as darkness is from dawn. In the sea of God’s forgetfulness, that’s good enough for me, praise God, my sins are gone.
(second verse) When Satan comes to tempt me, and cause me to doubt, I say, my sins are gone. You got me into trouble, but Jesus got me out. I’m glad, my sins are gone. (then the chorus)
It’s a good song, take my word for it!
Some lessons God’s children have to keep learning…
She was a faithful member of the church I had gone to right after seminary. I was 27 years old with a lot to learn about ministry. But I knew something about her she thought no one else did.
One day the church secretary had blurted out to me that a year earlier Gloria Mae had had an affair with a man she worked with. “And she thinks no one knows it!” Well, it’s impossible to unknow something once you hear it. And I was sorry to know this. But God used that…
One day sometime later, while making my morning hospital rounds, I noticed that Gloria Mae had been admitted as a patient. I went in to visit her. “My ulcer is acting up,” she told me. As we visited, she said, “Pastor, one of these days there is something I need to tell you. Something that bothers me.”
I said, “I’m available any time,” and continued to stand there by her bed talking and listening. And because I was patient, she began pouring out the sad tale of her sin. She wept and my heart broke for her. Finally, I said, “Gloria, has God forgiven you?”
“Oh, yes,” she said, “He has, but I can’t forgive myself.”
I said, “So, you have a higher standard than God. Is that right?”
She was almost offended. “Brother Joe! Whatever does that mean?”
I said, “Well, listen to you. Sure, God forgave me. It’s easy for Him. But I’m harder on myself than He is.” I paused to let that sink in and said, “Gloria, if God forgave you, why don’t you forgive yourself?”
We prayed together and left that sordid business at the cross, where it belonged. One year later, I received a note from her saying, “It was a year ago today that you visited me in the hospital. And you said exactly what I needed to hear. I am well today. Thank you.”
Her sins were gone. And how good is that???
Question: Where were her sins? What had God done with them? Continue reading
“As his share who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage: they shall share alike” (I Samuel 30:24).
When Roland Q. Leavell returned home to the States from the “Great War” in Europe–what would come to be called the First World War–he had a problem. People wanted to hear stories of the war, of battles, of heroism. The problem was he didn’t have any.
Roland Q. Leavell was in his 20s, single, and with a bachelor’s degree from seminary. He had pastored small churches and had been sent to “the front” as a representative of the YMCA. In those days, there was no USO to take care of American troops overseas, and fledgling organizations and ministries were still trying to figure these things out.
According to Dottie L. Hudson’s book “He Still Stands Tall: The Life of Roland Q. Leavell,” based on her father’s diaries, Roland did a hundred small things in his efforts for the Y: He led Bible studies, he counseled soldiers, he ran a canteen, he taught French to a few soldiers, and he drove an ambulance. At one point, he inhaled poisonous gas the Boches sprayed into the air. The one time he shot a gun was as a joke, pointed into the air across no-man’s-land. “I guess I didn’t kill over 50,” he remarked in his diary.
And when he got home, people wanted to hear his stories.
No one enjoys second-guessing himself, what Warren Wiersbe called “doing an autopsy on oneself.”
It’s possible to work ourselves into the psych ward or even an early grave by analyzing every single thing we do and questioning the motive behind every word.
No one is suggesting that.
And yet, there is much to be said for looking back at what we did and learning from our mistakes and failures and omissions.
That’s what this is all about.
It’s best done in solitary. (Often, we preachers ask our wives, “How did I do?” Poor woman. She’s in a no-win situation. Leave her out of it.)
What I hate most about my preaching is the tendency to intrude too much into the sermon.
I hate realizing that in a sermon I was trying to co-star with Jesus when the Holy Spirit called me to be a member of the supporting cast.
At a funeral of a dear friend who was a longtime deacon in a former pastorate, I filled the message time with too much of me.
Now, I adore his family and, if I’m any judge, the feeling is mutual. So, feeling at home and among friends, I shared their grief at our loved one’s death and rejoiced in their confidence that he is with the Lord.
Instead of delivering a formal message that had been well thought out in advance, I shared memories of my friend and insights from Scripture that say so much about death and eternal life.
Nothing of this was wrong or out of place. If there is one thing I believe strongly, it’s in the integrity of the Lord Jesus Christ and His assurances for life eternal.
But the sermon was just “too much Joe.”
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…. (I Peter 2:21)
If you like your religious faith shallow and thoroughly thought-out for you without you being required to use your brain for any aspect–that is, if you prefer a manmade and easy-to-digest religion–you’re not going to hang around in a real Christian church long.
The Christian faith is a lot of things, but shallow and neatly systematic it is not. Rather, it’s historical and complex and true. It is true-to-life. And it has been revealed to us in such a way that we are required to put our thinking caps on and engage the brain in order to appreciate what we have been given and how it all fits together.
If you say “Well, the Bible says what it means and means what it says” to explain difficulties, you and I have nothing to talk about, for you have chosen not to deal with the hard parts.
Take suffering, for example.
Adversaries and critics of the Christian faith–these Christopher Hitchens and Bishop James Pikes (google these if they are unfamiliar) have always been with us, so don’t let the latest “smarter than God” genius upset you–say the fatal flaw to our theology is suffering. We’re repeatedly told that the Bible does not adequately answer the question of suffering and pain in the world.
You read that and shake your head. Scores of books from Christian writers pour off the press every year dealing with just that subject, particularly after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.
What the critics actually mean, but would not admit in a hundred years, is that Scripture has no easy explanation of suffering. And they do want their religion to be easy to digest.
Dear Lord, even if I pray in faith and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, but am praying something which I will regret forever and which is not what You have planned, please ignore me. Thank you for hearing this prayer!
Three men in the Bible–really godly men, the best of the bunch–prayed at one time or other for the Lord to end their lives.
–Moses in Numbers 11:15 “If I’ve found favor in Thy sight, please kill me.”
–Elijah in I Kings 19:4 “That’s enough now, Lord. Take my life. I’m no better than my fathers (and they’re all dead).” My paraphrase.
–Jonah in Jonah 4:3 “Death is better to me than life, so please take my life from me, O Lord.”
Josh Woo, a friend from my last pastorate, is a veteran of game shows and quiz programs. When Josh was 11, he was a contestant on Jeopardy. As a student at the University of Southern California, he hosted his own television program on the campus station. At one point, Josh was a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In between, he’s done the Wheel and several other shows.
The question that tripped him up on “Millionaire” went something like this: “At 7’7″, So-and-so is the tallest player in the NBA. But he is slightly shorter than what portion of the Statue of Liberty?” The choices were her right arm, her eye, the tablet she is holding, and her finger. Using his final lifeline, Josh asked a buddy to help him, and they missed it. Anyway….
Josh said veteran contestants (like himself) have a name for that kind of question, but perhaps he shouldn’t tell his pastor. I said, “Come on. Give.”
“We call that a Go To Hell question.”
“A ‘Go To Hell’ Question,” he explained, “is one relying on such fine detail that no reasonable person should be expected to know it.”
Ah yes. Who among us is not familiar with such.
“When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your…appointed feasts; they have become a burden to me…. Even when you multiply prayers, I will not listen.” (Isaiah 1)
Often while preparing a sermon, I pray, “Lord, help me not to squander Thy blessing, waste their time, or miss this opportunity!”
Today, we’re talking about the second of these: Wasting time.
We do a lot of that in church, I fear.
We waste time in church every time we find ourselves:
–praising the God whose word you are flouting, pretending to adore the God whose will is the last thing you want.
–voicing hymns which express truths you do not believe and adoration you do not share.
–bringing pitiful offerings in place of something meaningful. Or even worse, bringing an offering while griping about pastors preaching on money.
–saying prayers by rote when your mind is a thousand miles away.
Our Lord said, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
Such worshipers are wasting their time.
“The righteous will be remembered forever” (Psalm 112:6).
What do you suppose would happen if the Father in Heaven ever got Alzheimer’s?
After all, He’s really, really old, right?
Okay. Not going to happen, of course. My whimsy gene is just asserting itself today. Scripture makes it plain that “He knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).
But it did start me to thinking….
What if the Lord really ever were in danger of forgetting me?
Well, the good news is He has these memory aids, mnemonic devices they are called, to guarantee that He doesn’t lose track of any of us. And no, I do not mean God ties a string around His finger. Something far better.