I need you this morning to put on your thinking caps because we are going to delve deep this morning. And I’m going to challenge the way you think. We’re going to delve deep into the book of Revelation beginning in chapter one and chapter two this morning. I’m kind of going through something right now. It’s kind of strange. I remember when my kids first went to college. for moms and dads, you remember that day, you were planning on having a party because you’re going to be empty nesters. You were so excited because your kids were finally leaving the household. And then the moment that they left the household, you like crashed in on yourself. You couldn’t believe it. You were all alone, your kids were gone? Well, I experienced that about four years ago, where both of my daughters left the same weekend. They both went away to college. And I mean, it hit both my wife and me hard. And then when they came back. Okay, it was just as traumatic. When they left it was just as traumatic when they came back. And then they’ve been back for a while. And now over this last weekend, both of my daughters are gone again. And one is up in Charlotte, North Carolina. The other one is over in new Matilda right now. And I got to show it, it’s hard. It’s like when you put 25 years into your kids, right? You know, they’ve always there always been a part of your life. And all of a sudden, I mean, they’re part of your life, but all of a sudden, they’re gone. You know, they’re gone. It’s just kind of strange. But it kind of has me reminiscing about stuff. And I was reminiscing back to the days when my wife Suzanne and I were first dating, you know, some 30 years ago, we were dating. And back in that day, we would actually write letters to each other. You remember the snail mail, the love letters in the mail. Anybody out there? Remember love letters in the mail, right? I think if you’re 30 years of age and younger, you don’t know what that is. And you maybe send a text, maybe send an email, but to write a love letter and, and so Suzanne and I because I lived in California for several years, and my wife lived in St. Louis. We weren’t separated. Much of our dating life. We were separated. And I was in the military. So, I ended up in Hawaii, and my wife was still in St. Louis. And we would write letters to each other. And we still have those letters. We’ve got this wood box that we’ve compiled all of these letters in and every now and then we’ll pull them out. And we’ll reminisce and we’ll reminisce back to the days when we were dating before you know before there were children before there were careers before there was it was just like it seems so long ago, but it also seems like it was just yesterday. And because we always lived far apart from each other. We would fly obviously to see each other, and we would write barf bag letters.
Has anyone written a barf bag letter? There is such a thing. You would get on a plane, you’d be upset, you’d be crying, because you don’t know the next time you’ll see each other, and we profess our love on barf bags. We still have barf bag letters in that box that is stuck in storage someplace. Well, this morning, we’re going to talk about some letters that were written to seven different churches in Asia Minor. Now the seven churches, are historical places. These are real cities. These are real churches. They’re about a 50-mile circumference from each other. And the seven letters are found in the book of Revelation chapter two, and chapter three.
The very first letter written to a church was to the church of Ephesus. It is the book of Ephesians that was written to the church in Ephesus. Okay, to set the stage and I need you to kind of hang in there with me as we go through some of the historical and archaeological facts about Ephesus. Ephesus was a magnificent city. It was in Asia Minor, which is currently a turkey. It’s on the western coast of Turkey and the agency. Back in the first century, Ephesus was this extremely important economic and commercial center. It was one of the oldest cities and it was the foremost city of the whole region. It wasn’t the capital of Asia Minor, but it was the four most the most prominent city of Asia Minor. Today, if you were to look at the map of Turkey, there was a poor town called Kusadasi. When you look at the city of Ephesus, it’s actually some three miles in. I mean, some 2000 years ago, it was on the coast. And now the geography has changed so much that the city itself is three miles in from the coast. And it was because the Dneister River was a river that ran through the town. It had this silting problem that would bring in so much debris that the harbor would constantly silt up. Now, even today, if you were to go visit Ephesus, and I’d been there it’s an amazing place. I mean, the ruins of Ephesus are just remarkable. There is this old Roman highway that goes right to the middle of town. It was called the Arcadian way. It was paved, it has a gutter system, it was 70 feet wide, and it was lined with these very beautiful tall ornate columns. I mean, it was the marketplace center of the city. The city itself was very diverse people from all around the world. would end up right there in Ephesus. So, there were people of different cultures in different races. And they all lived right there in this, this major city. Ephesus was extremely wealthy. It was an export city, right. And so it was, it was a city that produced goods that were going out and coming in. So, the residents of FFC Ephesus were extremely wealthy. And it was a large city. Back in the first century, it was the fourth largest city of the entire area, behind Athens and behind, instead of Constantinople. There were about 250,000 people in Ephesus. Now we know from the scriptures that Paul was instrumental in planting the church in Ephesus, that he stayed there for about two and a half years preaching the gospel. We know that when Paul left, he left young Timothy, I mean, they had some really good preachers in Ephesus, and tradition has it. And we know that that John, with an Ephesus as well, the apostle John was an Ephesus, and that he most likely took Mary, the mother of Jesus with him. Now really quick, just some background, some three things to remember about the city of Ephesus, they stressed the importance of knowledge. This was an extremely sophisticated city. And that facade that you see right there, that is the library of Celsus, the library of Celsus, held about 12,000 different volumes. I mean, this is the first century Look how beautiful and how large that building is. multiple stories. I mean, it was absolutely gorgeous. And so, the people, they focused on knowledge, they focused on gaining wisdom. They actually even had a medical school in the city of Ephesus. Now they valued wisdom, right? They valued their theology, they valued knowledge, but over a short period of time, they so focused on knowledge, that they lost the joy of living love. They lost the joy of living for their savior, Jesus, they became so focused on knowledge and having wisdom, that they lost their first love.
The second thing that we learned about the city of Ephesus, it was the prevalence of idolatry in the city, it was a pagan city. It was a Roman city, they had multiple gods and in fact, in the city of Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis. Artemis was a Greek and the Roman god was the goddess of fertility of hunting, and of childbirth.
The ruins of the temple of Ephesus are not there anymore. They were kind of repurposed to build a church over in Istanbul, Constantinople. In the first century, it was a magnificent temple, it was a tourist attraction. They wouldn’t just build a church; they wouldn’t just build a temple. But they would build such a magnificent structure that people from all around the world all around the region would want to come and behold, they would want to see it. And then they would think, wow, this God must be so great that they built this temple. And then they would honor the God or the goddess of that temple. The Temple of Artemis and Ephesus was declared one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World. It was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, four times the size of the Greek Parthenon. See if you lived in Ephesus back in the first century, if you did not worship Artemis, it was offensively counter-cultural.
The expectation was that you would honor and pay homage and worship this goddess of fertility, this goddess of childbirth, and of hunting. Paul came into the city and he’s boldly proclaiming the Word of God. God is working in and through Paul in some powerful ways, and he’s performing these miracles, and people are being healed. They’re seeing the signs, and he wonders if they’re hearing the gospel, the message, and more and more people are coming to faith in Jesus. And as more and more people are coming to faith in Jesus, fewer and fewer people are worshipping Artemis, to the point where the local silversmith union rose up in led by a man named Demetrius, they raised a protest against Paul. They would make these trinkets that they would sell to all the tourists, they would sell to the people coming to worship Artemis. And because fewer and fewer people were believing in Artemis, they were selling fewer and fewer trinkets. Paul was cutting into their pipeline of money. They rose up in protest against Paul and Demetrius and his fellow silversmith, they got all the people so riled up, and they ended up in this theater. This theater still stands, seats 25,000 people. It says all the people were riled up. They ended up in protest, chanting artists, Artemis is name great is our God Artemis in protest against Paul. So, paganism ran rampant throughout the entire city.
The third thing I want you to remember about Ephesus is the local trash heap. Now, this is kind of an unpleasant subject. It’s sad. But it was an openly accepted practice in the first century, that if you had a child that you did not want, maybe you wanted a boy and you had a girl, or maybe there was some deformity, or maybe there was some issue, that if you had a child you did not want, you could simply take the child to the trash heap, and let it be exposed until it died. It was a common practice; it was accepted among the people. But then all of a sudden, the Christians, had this extravagant, sacrificial kind of love, that what they would do is they would rescue those children, and they would raise those children and take care of those children. And people from all the rounds would recognize how these Christians were living differently from everyone else in the city. They practice this extravagant kind of love, but over time, their love grew cold. Over time, the love of the church grew cold, and the practice winged in ultimately stopped. And what happened to the people of the church in Ephesus is they substituted faith and love, for wisdom, and knowledge. The church became inward-focused, it was no longer about serving, it was no longer about love, but it was about what was in it for me. Now, I don’t know about you. But oftentimes, I see myself in that.
Sometimes we’re so inward-focused on self, and my own wants and my own desires, that, that you know, what we don’t necessarily live love. We’re so inward-focused, that, that we don’t live that extravagant kind of love, where we use the gifts and the talents and the abilities that God has blessed us with to make a difference. And so, this morning, I want to talk about Ephesus, the forgetful church, okay, and we’re going to look at the book of Revelation. Now the book of Revelation was written by John. Okay, the apostle John was one of the pastors he was the Bishop of Ephesus. And John was boldly proclaiming the gospel in the city of Ephesus. And the Romans didn’t like it. And so, they arrested him. I mean, he was arrested for preaching for sharing his faith. He was arrested for preaching the gospel. They arrested him, and they exiled him to the city of Patmos. And they’re on the island of Patmos. He wrote the book of revelations and the seven letters to the churches. In Revelation chapter one began, verse nine put your thinking caps on here. He says, I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus was on the island called Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. So, John tells us how he arrived at Patmos. He was proclaiming the gospel, the Romans didn’t like it, and so they exiled him. Now this little island of Patmos, it’s about 40 miles off the coast. It’s only four miles by eight miles wide long. It was a volcanic island. So, it was extremely rocky, there were very few trees, very few bushes. It was a Roman penal colony. If the Romans didn’t like you, they would just drop you off on the island, and you had to fend for yourself. And we know that John was exiled there. John goes on to say, I was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day. And I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, write what you see in a book, and send it to the seven churches to Ephesus and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis. And to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. Okay, so it was it. So, John says he was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. I mean, even back in the first century, followers of Jesus Christians, always worship on Sunday, why? It was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It was the Lord’s Day, the victory had been one our sin had been paid for, because Jesus lives, we know all that he promises will come true, and that we also will live. It’s interesting. On the island of Patmos, I’ve been there, it’s really kind of interesting. There’s this monastery that sits upon a hill. And it’s the holy cave where it’s believed tradition has it that John lived, and where John wrote the book of Revelation. In Revelation chapter two, let’s take a look at this letter that he wrote to the church in Ephesus. He said to the angel of the church in Ephesus, right? These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in this right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. So here in the very first verse, Jesus is identifying himself. Okay, this is Jesus talking to John saying, this is what I want you to write. These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the lampstands. So, which when you look at the seven stars in the lampstands, already, you’re thinking yourself, what entire nation is he talking about? I mean, you can tell already that we’re in the book of Revelation, can’t you? Okay, but it’s interesting because John explains it to us. Once again in Revelation chapter one, verse 20. John writes this, the mystery of the seven stars that you saw on my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands or the seven churches. Okay, so God, the God defines what the seven lampstands and the seven stars are. The Seven Stars are the angels, the Greek word is Anglos, the word Anglos simply means messenger. It can be a heavenly body or heavenly person, or it could be a pastor, or it could be one of us, we are messengers of God. Okay, and so in this particular case, he’s writing to the pastors of these seven different churches in modern-day Turkey. And so, the seven stars are the angels, the messengers, and the seven lampstands. As members of the church, we’re called to be the light of the world, aren’t we? You and I, we are the church, the seven lampstands are the church, the seven churches. And at number seven, all throughout Scripture, that number seven has special meaning special significance. It’s a number of completeness, a number of wholeness. So what Jesus is saying is that he holds all things in his hands, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He’s the boss, he’s the one who’s got all things in his hands. And this is what I want you to write. He says, I know in verse two, I mean, those are powerful words. Jesus writing to the church in Ephesus, writing to us!
I can see what’s going on in my church with my own eyes. I know what you’re going through, I know what’s taking place. I know how you’re feeling and how you’re hurting. I know and I understand. I mean, these are powerful words of love and of concern and compassion. Have you ever watched the show Undercover Boss? Where the boss the CEO of some company leaves the golden, I know the ivory towers and they take off their suit, they put on the clothes of the regular working person? And they go down into the trenches with all the employees. And after spending about a week there, you know, they finally revealed who they are. And they say, I know, I know what you’re going through. I know what the difficulties are, I know, and I can do something about it. Jesus is saying to the church to us, he says, I know, I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary. I mean, so far, so good. Jesus is writing to the church. He says, I know what you’re enduring. I know what you’ve gone through. I know that you don’t tolerate false teachers and because of your wisdom, and because of your theology, in your knowledge, you call them out for being false. I know that you persevered, even when you were being persecuted for my namesake. You’ve stood strong, you’re hard working, you’re indomitable. You’ve got this great discernment. And they’ve got this knowledge in this theology, which is one of their greatest gifts. I know. Jesus says, it’s almost like he’s setting them up to knock them down, isn’t it? I mean, things are going great. I know. But have you ever noticed oftentimes; our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness? Have you I noticed this about myself years and years ago, that my greatest strength is often my greatest weakness, like when it comes to counseling somebody, okay, I know where they’re at. I know where they want to get to. Okay, but I am so focused on the future, I’m so focused on getting to where they want to be that I don’t necessarily pay a lot of attention to the past. And some people just need to talk about the past. And I do that a lot with my own life. I know where I’m at. I know I want to be with the church. I know where we got to go. And so, I want to get there. And so often, I’m so focused on the future, that you know what I miss living in the present, always looking to what’s coming next. And so, Jesus, he identifies their strengths, right? I know what you’ve been toward. I know how you’ve stood firm. yet. He says, I hold this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. John, the disciple known as the loving apostle, right? Remember, Jesus was on the cross. And from the cross, Jesus looked down, he saw his mother and disciple whom he loved John standing there will maybe hold your son, son, Behold, your mother. And John took care of Mary for the rest of her life. It was John who recorded the commandment of Jesus in John chapter 13. A new commandment I give you to love one another. As I have loved you, Jesus said, so you must love one another. It was John who recorded in John chapter 15. Jesus’ words Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And again, John chapter three, verse 16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only big Adam Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God so loved all of his creation; God so loved you that he gave his only son for you. See, that’s the first love, the original love, the love of God in and through Jesus Christ. And yet, John is warning the church. Jesus is warning to church through John that they forgot what was most valuable. They forgot their first love. And it was a warning. See, they love the knowledge more than they love their Savior. My friends, I mean, it’s a warning to us as well. Okay, warning, will rot will Robinson warning? Because, you know, I maintain that’s us. I mean, I see it all the time I live it. We crave knowledge, don’t we? We want to hear something new is like when we hear the gospel stories like yeah, I know that. I know that story. I’ve heard it a 1000s. I’ve heard it since I was a kid. We see a baptism. It’s like, yeah, it’s nice. But you know, we lose it. We say, please just tell me something new, reveal some new nugget, some new truth, and the truth is this; we’re always looking for something new. But we’re not living out what we already know.
We always want to be plugged in, we always want to be fed something new, which is great, don’t get me wrong. But we’re also not living out what we already know God calls us to do to maintain oftentimes, as we walk with Jesus, we can become Comfortably Numb, we should write a song, we should become comfortable enough. You know, our heart stroke hold. And what happens is oftentimes when it comes to the Christian faith, it’s just checking off a bunch of boxes. x Oprah, Oprah was a Latin term, by the work of doing something, we want to get the benefit just by the act of doing it. I’ve been to church, I gave money, I gave to pack a sack. We go to the action and yet our hurts have gone cold. I maintain it doesn’t mean we don’t do it. I think we do it consciously. We have all of these responsibilities in life, where we have work, and we have our kids and we have school and social functions, and everything else going on in life, that we just lose sight of.
Hey, if you ever had the privilege of going to Cuba, you go to Havana, okay, and they got this beautiful architecture with the old tires and everything else. I mean, it’s really pretty. Okay. And oftentimes when you look at you look at the facade of the buildings, you know, it’s this beautiful architecture, you walk up to it, no kidding me, you walk up to and you look in, and there’s nothing behind it. I say nothing. I mean, nothing. It’s a pile of rubble. It’s just the facade.
I think so often, that’s what happens to many believers in Christ. We look good on the outside. But when it comes to living out our faith, we’re not doing it. We’re just checking off the box. You see the church in Ephesus, that first century church, the church grew so rapidly, it became so popular, because they lived love radically. They were completely totally different than the rest of the culture. They lived in love the sacrificially, and people would see it, and they would say, wow, if this is that the message of Jesus, if this is what Jesus is, like, if this is what Jesus teaches, then I want that I want to be part of that. And the church grew in the church was strong, and then all of a sudden, they replaced love for knowledge. It was a big swing and a big Miss. I mean, even Paul talks about this in first Corinthians, doesn’t he? Know that great love chapter. If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding Gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I’m nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to the hardships that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. It’s love. As Jesus loved us, we’re called to love one another. So, Jesus says to John, consider how far you fallen. Remember how far you’ve come? How far you fall in from your first love. Once again, it’s an ominous warning not only to them, but to us as well. And I think it’s got some very personal meaning to the church in Ephesus. See that case the river that was talking about it was a constant filtering problem, right? I mean, they had the dredging and actually in the first century, they had a dredging system. They could actually clean out the harbor to make sure the ships could come back and forth. But over time, they kind of threw their hands up. They stopped doing it in the harbor silted up and Ephesus is in ruins. It’s gone. I think what Jesus is telling us is we need to clean our heart. It’s almost like we got to dredge our heart, we’ve lost our first love. And once again, I think oftentimes, maybe you’re just overwhelmed with business of life. You’ve got so much going on, you got to be in so many different places, so many different responsibilities. Maybe you’re intimidated to share your faith. Maybe you’re just overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, you’re watching the news in the morning, you’re worried about illness, you’re worried about finances, there’s all of these pressures of life that are going on or, or maybe you know, what you’re just so excited about your hobbies, or about the athletic teams or about sports are about school, or maybe it’s a brand spanking new relationship you’re in. Maybe you’re just doing great, and life is going well. And you’re getting caught up in all of your success in overtime. We just kind of drift away. We just kind of drift away. And we find ourselves asking God, where are you? Which guy would respond? I never left. I’m right here with you. Had there’s a story about a refrigerator was used to be my refrigerator over and Wagner Hall. I’ll tell you the story later on. But you know what happens when you unplug a fridge? It will stay cold for a while, right? It stays cold for a while. But ultimately over time, it’ll begin to warm up and then everything inside of it spoils and rots. When we unplug ourselves from God when we unplug ourselves from his power, from God’s word from the means of grace, when we plug ourselves from the fellowship of believers, and not being in a small group Bible study, ultimately what happens, we lose the power. Over time we begin to silt up our heart becomes hard, we begin to grow warm, and actually everything rots. But Jesus says, when we say God, where are you?
He says, I’ve always been with you. I’m with you always to the very end of the world. So, here’s my challenge to do. I want you to just consider, I want you to think back in your life. just pause to slow down for a few moments to just pause and reflect. Maybe like King David in Psalm 139, we can boldly proclaim, search me, O God and know my heart. test me and know my anxious thoughts. Consider how far you fallen. And then repent is what Jesus says. To repent is a change of mind. Right? If you’re going down one path, you’re going to stop you’re going to go down a different path to repent, meet. If you’re going this way, you’re going to stop, you’re going to turn and go back to Jesus, repent, and do the things that you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from you it’s instant judgment. Jesus tells us to repent Remember to return to our first love. And in verse six, he’s got this little he says, but you have this in your favor. You hate the practices of the Nicola Logan’s Nickelodeon’s and had a television station. negotiations, right? Nickelodeon’s It’s okay, but the negotiations not so good. Okay. And which I also hate. The negotiations were this heretical sect that that kind of merged Christianity and paganism together. Alright, and so deep that says, she says, no, I hate them as well. And then looked at how he closes out. The chapter is not closed out his letter, whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. That’s all of us, right? This is Jesus talking. This is God talking to his churches. He’s talking to us. It’s the inspired, inerrant Word of God, to the one who is victorious. To the one who overcomes I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is the paradise of God knows how the last letter in the book of the Bible goes all the way back to the first to the Garden of Eden, the tree of life. To those who are victorious, you get the tree of life and why are we victorious? How are we victorious? How do we overcome the world because of what Christ has given in done for us? See, it all goes back to grace. It’s God’s grace, God’s love for each and every one of us that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we have everlasting life that we have the power, to repent, to turn away from that sin to turn away from that thing that pulls us that allows us to drift away from our first love to turn away from it. And go back to the one who says I love you with the never-ending love.
Pastor Paul Burtzlaff
God gives us full redemption in Jesus Christ.
We are continuing our message series called ‘Grace Changes Everything.’ And each week, we’ve been taking a look at how we live out the Gospel in various aspect of our lives.
How many of you would say that you made at least one poor choice when you were a teenager? Like you did something that you shouldn’t have done. How many of you would say that you made a whole lot of poor choices when you were a teenager?
When I was a teenager, I didn’t get in trouble very often, but every now and then, I would find myself making a poor choice. In fact, the one that I remember the most – the one that is seared into my brain forever – happened back in 2004. I was 16 years old. And the youth group at our church – we had gone over to Orlando for the National Youth Gathering. And this gathering was a bunch of Lutheran youth groups from all over the country who came together for a few days of programs and activities and worship. And as a high school student, it was really cool to go to such a big event.
On the second or third day of this youth gathering, my friend Brandon and I – we were walking through the convention center looking at all the activities that we could do. And as we were looking around, we came across this table full of these blank, plush dolls. They looked kind of like this. And the idea was that you could take some markers and you could draw faces on them and hair on them and clothes on them and make them into these really cool dolls. Brandon and I thought they were kind of creepy, like voodoo dolls, but the lady at the table said we could make a doll of ourselves or a doll of Jesus. And we were like, “Ah, that’s ok. I think we’re going to pass.” And she said, “Well here, just take a couple. Maybe you can make some later.” And so, we took them and said thank you and then we moved on to the next activity table.
At some point later that day, Brandon and I decided to go back to our hotel to drop some things off. And so, we walked over to the hotel, we hopped into the elevator, and as we got off onto our floor, Brandon turned to me and said, “Dude! You know what would be hilarious?” And I was like, “What?” He said, “We should take one of these creepy dolls and put it in an empty elevator so that when the doors open and someone walks into the elevator, that’s what they’ll see: a creepy doll lying on the ground.” And I said, “Oh! That would be hilarious! You should totally do that!”
And so, Brandon grabbed one of the dolls from his backpack and this is what he drew – I’ll never forget this – he took a blue marker, and he drew ‘x’s for the eyes and an ‘x’ for the mouth, and then on the torso of the doll, he wrote an ominous message. And we thought, “Oh man! This is going to be hilarious when somebody finds this!” And so, we pressed the elevator button, and when the door opened, Brandon placed the doll in the center of the elevator. And then we watched the door close. And as we walked back to our room, we could not stop laughing about what we had just done.
Later that night, around 8 pm, our youth group met in one of the hotel rooms for our nightly devotions, and our youth leader – Randy – stood up and said, “Hey, before we get started tonight with the devotion, I have an announcement to make. Um, apparently, there has been a threat made against the hotel. And the police are downstairs with a K-9 unit. And they’ve asked all the youth leaders to check with their youth groups to see if anybody has any information about this threat. And they also said that we may have to pack our things and evacuate pretty soon here.”
And friends, all of a sudden, I got this terrible lurching feeling in my stomach, and I began to shake with fear because, while everybody else in our youth group looked confused as to what could be going on, I knew exactly what Randy was talking about. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a Motel 6 like the ones that Pastor Paul stays at. We were staying at the Orlando Peabody Resort. Meaning that there were hundreds and hundreds of people staying at this hotel. And so I’m sitting there, my heart is pounding, my body is shaking, and I look over at Brandon. And Brandon is giving me this look like, “Don’t you dare say anything.” But I was so scared that I couldn’t shake it. And so, I said, “Uh, hey Randy. Can I talk to you in the hallway for a moment?” And so, we left the hotel room and stood in the hallway, and I said, “Um, Randy, I think I know what that threat is about. You see, earlier today, Brandon and I put a doll with an ominous message in an empty elevator. And we thought it would be funny. Like somebody would walk into the elevator, see the doll, and go, “Ha, ha, ha. Good one.” But apparently, it seems like whoever found it did not find it very funny. And uh, Randy, I am so sorry. We had no idea.”
Well, immediately, Randy went and got Brandon and talked to him about it, and a few minutes later, Brandon had to go down to the lobby and explain to the entire K-9 unit that he was the one who had written the message on the doll, and it was meant to be a practical joke. And then shortly after they had left, Randy had Brandon and I go around and apologize to our youth group and the front desk staff and the hotel manager. I mean, we apologized to pretty much anybody and everybody for what we had done. And to add salt to the wound, check this out. For the rest of our time at the National Youth Gathering, everywhere we went, kids were walking around with these dolls. Which meant that Brandon and I were constantly reminded of the boneheaded decision we had made.
Now, friends, the reason I share that story is because today – now decades later – I can still vividly remember that poor choice that Brandon and I had made. And the reason I can remember it is because I felt so much guilt and shame for what we had done.
You know, about a year ago, I shared a message on how you and I as people tend to keep a record of other peoples’ wrongs. That when somebody comes into our lives, it’s like we take a box, we put their name on it, and then whenever that person messes up or makes a mistake, it’s like you take out a pen and you write down their mistake on a sheet of paper, and you put it in their box. And the more they wrong us, the more we add to their box. Right? As people, you and I tend to keep a record of other people’s wrongs.
But, friends, you know what we didn’t talk about in that message? Not only do we keep a record of other people’s wrongs, but we also keep a record of our own wrongs. In other words, you and I also have boxes with our names on them, and whenever we make a poor choice or we do something sinful, we add that wrong to our box. For example, my friend and I almost caused an entire hotel to evacuate because we put a doll in an elevator with an ominous message on it. Into the box it goes.
Now, what’s interesting is that the way we organize the boxes that we keep on ourselves is oftentimes very different than the way we organize the boxes that we keep on other people.
Ok, for the boxes we keep on other people, we tend to keep their worst wrongs right at the very top of their box. And the reason we do this is so that whenever that person tries to point out our flaws, we can open up their box, and we can hit them with some of the worst things they’ve ever done to us.
For example, your family member says, “Hey, you’re being kind of rude.” And you say, “Oh yeah? You want to talk about rude? How about that time 17 years ago when you refused to talk to me for an entire month?” And we kind of wave it in their face, right? You see, when it comes to other people, we tend to keep their worst wrongs at the very top of their box.
But you know what? When it comes to our own box of wrongs, oftentimes, we tend to do just the opposite. For example, you open up your box, and at the very top are the things you’ve done that you’re not proud of, but you wouldn’t be crushed if other people found about them. Like that time you cursed at a driver for cutting you off in traffic. Or that time when you ate all of grandma’s candies and blamed it on the dog. Or that time on Black Friday when you pushed somebody out of the way at Walmart to get the last Tickle-Me-Elmo. Or that time when you watched something that you knew you shouldn’t have watched…you know what I’m talking about, right? A Hallmark Channel Original Movie? Right?
But you know what? Then you get down a little deeper in the box and it gets a little more personal. Like that one time you yelled at your spouse and your kids were watching. Or that time you lied to a friend, and they found out, and it damaged your relationship. Or that time you gossiped about your coworker, and they were really hurt that not only did you participate in it, but you…you started it. Or that time when you were a teenager, and you told your parents that they didn’t know anything and that you wish you had had different parents.
And, friends, then you get to the very bottom of the box. And at the very bottom of the box are things that you’ve thought and said and done that nobody knows about. The person sitting next to you today might not even know about these things. And you know what? The reason why nobody knows about them is because you’ve tried so hard for so long to keep those sins hidden because you know that if people found out about them that they would look at you differently for the rest of your life. And so, what do we do? We keep them hidden. We keep them in here.
You see, friends, not only do we keep a record of other people’s wrongs, but we also keep a record of our own wrongs. And you know what? In light of our message series, here’s the question that we’re going to look at today: As Christians, what do we do with the boxes we that keep on ourselves? In other words, as followers of Jesus, how exactly are we supposed to deal with this record of our wrongs?
Ok, to help us answer this question, we’re going to take a look at Psalm 130. Now, this psalm is known as a psalm of ascent. And the reason it’s called a psalm of ascent is because the author begins the psalm at a low place of guilt and shame. And as the psalm progresses, he then begins to ascend until he reaches a place of forgiveness and grace. And, friends, what I love about this psalm is that it so clearly and beautifully shows us why grace changes absolutely everything.
Ok, let’s dive into it this morning – Psalm 130, beginning at verse 1. Take a look. The psalmist says, 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
Friends, where is the psalmist? He’s in the depths, right? In other words, he finds himself in perhaps the lowest moment of his life. Now, he doesn’t tell us what he did, but we can guess that if he is in the depths, then he’s probably done something that is so bad and so heinous that he’s overwhelmed with guilt and shame.
It’s from that place of guilt and shame that he then cries out to God. What does he ask Him for? He asks for what? For mercy, right? “Lord, I’m in a bad spot. I am at the lowest of the lows. I am burdened by the guilt and shame of my sins. And I cry out to you for mercy.”
Now, check this out: the reason the psalmist asks God for mercy is because of the realization that he comes to in the next verse.
Take a look – verse 3. He says, 3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? Friends, let me ask you – how many sins have you committed? When you consider your entire life, how many sins have you committed? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? A million? A billion? How many sins have you committed? You know, the answer is that we don’t really know. But, friends, you know who does know? God. God knows every single instance in which we have fallen short of His standard.
You see, the boxes we keep on ourselves – these are the sins that we can remember. Right? These are the things that stick with us after they happen. But, friends, this is only a partial record of our wrongs. Because, as the psalmist had to come to realize, if God kept a record of our wrongs, He wouldn’t just need a box. He’d need boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes. I mean, think about this. With just my sins alone, God would have to rent out every single storage facility from here to Jacksonville. That’s how many boxes I would have.
And so, friends, this is why the psalmist cried out for mercy. Because he knew that if God keeps a record of our sins – if He knows every sinful thing we’ve ever done – who can stand? You? Me? Anybody? As the psalmist figured out, the answer was nobody. If God keeps a record of our sins, nobody will be able to stand.
Now remember, Psalm 130 is a psalm of ascent. Which means that we’re starting down here but eventually, we’re going to end up here. And so, check this out – the psalmist now begins his ascent by showing us his very big ‘but.’ Ok, that came out a little weird, but take a look with me. Verse 4. He says, But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. But with you…there is forgiveness. You see, verse 4 shows us that the way that God deals with our boxes is very different from the way that you and I deal with our boxes.
For example, some of us – we deal with our boxes by simply ignoring them. In other words, when we look back on our lives, there are some horrible things that we did. And instead of addressing them or seeking counseling for them or find peace with them, we numb our pain by ignoring them. We take the lid and we close the box and we take that box and we shove it far back into our mind.
And to make sure we don’t think about those sins, what do we do? We keep busy. We keep moving. We keep running. Because we know that the moment we stop, we’re going to have to deal with the things that are in our box. And so, for some of us, the way we deal with our boxes is by ignoring them and pretending that they’re not even there.
There are some of us who do just the opposite. We don’t ignore our boxes. We fixate on them. In fact, we’ve never even put the lid on our boxes because we can’t stop thinking about some of the shameful things that we’ve done in our past.
We wake up in the morning, and there it is. Or we’re in the middle of a conversation and the other person says something that triggers that memory from our past. Or we lie in bed tossing and turning because we cannot shake ourselves of the guilt and shame we feel. You see, some of us our haunted by the sins of our past. They affect the way we think. They affect the way we feel. They affect the way we live. For some of us, we can’t stop fixating on them because we are overwhelmed with guilt and shame.
But you know what? Here’s what we find out in verse 4. God doesn’t ignore our boxes. He doesn’t fixate on our boxes. What does He do? He forgives. He forgives our record of wrongs. How does He do it? Or better yet, how did He do that?
Take a look at how the psalmist finishes his psalm – watch how he ascends. Verse 5. He says, 5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
“Lord, from the depths, I cry out to you for mercy. Lord, if you kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you, there is forgiveness. And so, I’m going to wait and put my hope in your word. And I’m going to continue to wait and I’m going to continue to hope. Because with you is full redemption and Lord – you yourself – are going to redeem us from all of our sins.” Friends, what do we know today? That a few hundred years after this psalm was written – after years of waiting and hoping – God Himself came into the world to redeem us from all of our sins – just like the psalmist said.
The question that we set out to answer was this: that As Christians, what do we do with the boxes that we keep on ourselves? In other words, as followers of Jesus, how exactly are we supposed to deal with this record of our wrongs? And, friends, the key to answering this question is understanding that Jesus has already dealt with the contents of our boxes. That 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross, He redeemed us from every single one of our sins. Every single one.
Like that time you cursed at a driver for cutting you off in traffic? Forgiven. Or that time when you ate all of grandma’s candies and blamed it on the dog? Forgiven. Or that time on Black Friday when you pushed somebody out of the way at Walmart to get the last Tickle-Me-Elmo? Forgiven.
Or how about that one time when you yelled at your spouse and your kids were watching? Forgiven. Or that time you lied to a friend? Forgiven. Or that time you gossiped about your coworker? Forgiven. Or that time when you were a teenager, and you said some horrible things to your parents? Forgiven.
Or how about the things at the very bottom of the box? The things you’ve thought and said and done that nobody really knows about? Forgiven. You say, “But Chris, you don’t know some the things that I’ve done.” You’re right. I don’t. But you know what? God does. And not a single one of those things that you did has ever kept Him from loving you and forgiving you every single time.
You see, friends, that is why grace changes everything. Because in Jesus Christ, every single one of our sins is accounted for. As the psalmist says, He is our full redemption.
And so, you know what? I want to encourage you this morning. For some of you here today, there are things in this box that you’ve been ignoring. You’ve been running. You’ve been keeping busy. You’ve been doing whatever you can to repress some of these moments from your past. And for some of you, you’ve been running from them for most of your life. And you know what? I imagine that even though you’ve been trying your hardest to ignore and repress some of the things in your box, you still feel burdened by them almost every single day.
And so, you know what? If there are sins in your past that you’ve been to ignore and repress, this morning, I want to encourage you to stop running. Stop running. Slow down and begin to work through these moments from your past. For example, get together with a trusted friend or a counselor and begin to talk about some of these things that you’ve never really talked about before.
Like, “Hey, there’s something that I did in my past that I’m so ashamed of that I can’t even think about it. I’ve never addressed it. I’ve never talked about it. But at the same time, it’s weighing on me, and I can’t continue to live like this. And so, you know what, here’s what happened.”
You see, friends, there is great healing that comes when we begin to deal with the sins of our past. And the first part of that process is believing fully in your heart that whatever you’ve done, no matter how bad it may be, you do not have to be afraid to deal with your sin because Jesus has already dealt with it for you.
At the same time, for some of you here today, there are things in this box that you’ve been fixating on. At some point in time, you said something or did something to a family member or a friend or yourself and you feel so much guilt and so much shame. And you beat yourself up over and over and over again, all the while wishing you could go back in time and fix that wrong.
But, you see, here’s where I want to encourage you this morning: don’t let the things in this box have that kind of control over you. The Bible tells us that if you are in Christ Jesus, you are no longer a slave to your sin. You are a child of God. And as a child of God, Jesus doesn’t want you to live your life burdened by the sins of your past. Instead, He wants you to find freedom and peace in knowing that whenever you are overcome with guilt and shame that you can bring it to Him, and He will take your burden, and He will carry your burden so that you can rest and begin to learn to be at peace with whatever is in this box.
Finally, you may not be currently struggling with either one of these situations. Maybe at one point in your life, you ignored something you did in your past, but at some point, you faced it, you named it, you claimed it, you dealt with it. And you found healing in knowing that Jesus has already accounted for your sin. Or maybe at one point, you fixated on something you did in your past, but since then, you’ve found freedom and peace in knowing that God will never hold that sin against you.
And so maybe, today, you’re not struggling with one of these two situations, but you know what? There are people in your life who are. You likely have family members and friends and coworkers and neighbors who don’t want to face the sins of the past or who are constantly overwhelmed with the sins of their past.
And, friends, one of the greatest witnesses that you can be to them is to come alongside them and show them with your own life experiences – the moments from your own box – that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is greater than whatever they have in their box.
You see, friends, we may not be able to forget some of the things in our boxes. Like, I’m never going to forget that time my friend and I almost evacuated the Orlando Peabody Resort. And you – you’re never going to forget that time you watched a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. But you know what? Even though we may not be able to forget some of these things, we can always find peace in knowing that we serve a God who will never hold these things against us.
You see, this is what the psalmist had come to understand when he sat down and wrote these powerful and beautiful words of Psalm 130. When he said, 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. 3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. 5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
Friends, my prayer for all of us today is that we may be filled with hope and assurance and peace that in Jesus Christ, we have our full redemption because He has already accounted for every single one of our sins. And, friends, you know what? That kind of grace…it changes everything. It changes the way we think. It changes the way we feel. It changes the way we live. Amen? Amen.
Pastor Chris Futch
God’s grace changes our heart so that you and I can live a gospel-shaped life. And it is amazing how God gives illustrations. God gave me an illustration this morning, as I left home this morning. We are living temporarily in Indian rocks beach, which is a good hike from here. And so I got up this morning, I’ve got my cup of coffee, I made myself turkey roll-up, and I’m driving down the road down golf Boulevard and I’m driving down the road, it’s dark outside, as I’m coming to work. All of a sudden, I see this little red beam from over my right hand side. As I kept driving, getting closer to this little red beam, that little red beam was coming out of the side window of a white Yukon, with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department written down the side of it. So sure enough coffee in hand, I’ve got 91.5 I’m singing my praise music, I go past this fine officer, and he comes behind me and lights me up. Okay, first thing in the morning, Sunday morning, I pull over. And he comes up to me. And you know, he we have limited allegedly, allegedly, I was exceeding the speed limit. And so he pulled me over, you know, he just checked my ID and everything. And he had grace, he showed me some grace. And just simply let me off with a warning. You know, and so for a moment, just for a moment, my heart had an attitude. You know, I mean, you know, when that light goes off behind you, your company attitude right away, and then all of a sudden God’s grace, my healed my heart. And in all honesty, I learned from grace this morning, I learned from that officer’s grace, as I drove the rest of the way into church this morning, following every law, every speed limit every law that there was I learned from his grace.
So it’s amazing how God gives us examples, right? There was friction. So it’s all you know, Grace changes everything. And I was thinking as I was getting prepared for this morning’s message, I absolutely love Pastor Futch’s stories, you know, and I was thinking about some of the stories that pastor Futch told. And you know what, he’s a lot like one of those little rascals, isn’t he? You know, he and Spanky would get along great. I don’t have any good stories. I mean, I was a good kid, when I grew up, you know, and so I don’t have any stories. As Pastor Futch has, you know, I get along with my neighbors. I don’t have any issues with garbage being thrown in my garbage can, you know, my wife and I, if she wants to do dishes in the dishwasher, I’ll let her do dishes in the dishwasher. It’s no big deal. And so I’m kind of easy to get along with. And so I’m thinking myself, I don’t have good stories like that. And then I started to think about it just a little bit. And I grew up in Parma, Ohio, which is the west side of Cleveland. I went to Bethany Lutheran Church in school from the time I was in kindergarten all the way through eighth grade. Now when I was a kid, okay, Mike Moses was the principal, Moses scared the daylights out of me. He really did. He appeared to me as a child to be this very large, grumpy old man who was just waiting, just waiting to get me in trouble and to delve out punishment. In reality, Mike Moses was about yay high and very wide. All right, and as I grew up, he was one of the most loving, jovial, joyful people I ever met. I mean, he was just filled with the Spirit. But you know, I was sitting back thinking as I grew up in Bethany, there were times that I was disciplined when I grew up in Bethany. I remember one time distinctly being paddled. Remember the good old days when you got paddled in school? I got paddled in school. And I actually remember what it was that I did. In our school at Bethany Lutheran, we had speckled floors, a lot like many educational institutions. Mrs. Maliki my eighth-grade teacher would be up there writing on the chalkboard. Well, we laid our hands on these little BB’s. Okay, and she’d be up there writing on the board, and a couple of us we through BB’s at the board there. And you know, she’d hear it she’d look and she’d look at a speck of foreign he can’t see anything because the BB’s were camouflaged by the floor. Well, this went on for weeks. We had a lot of BB’s, this went on for weeks. We kept shooting BB’s until what happened was when you walk on those babies, it would make a pencil mark on the floor. So the maintenance man finally figured out what was going on. Okay, in the trap was set. And sure enough, she turned around pulled me in to my buddies, and that was it. We actually got paddled. I don’t Mrs. Medic I think had it out for me. But that same year, I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap. I don’t remember what I said or how I said it. But I do remember going down to the bathroom by the front office of the school and she had a brand new bar soap. She was waiting for me. She had a brand new bar soap, I had to put that soap in my mouth and wait a certain amount of time before I could take it out.
Now, the reason I’m sharing these stories with you, there are some of my early memories, memories of behavior modification, right? I mean, these were teachers trying to modify my behavior. And we’ve all grown up with behavior modification, right? We learn over time to do and to say certain things in order to make life work. If I want to get along at work, if I want to get along with my spouse, if I want to get along with people, my community, I behave. I speak a certain way. And over time, we’ve all learned these different filters in our life. And what we do is, when we speak, our words are processed through a filter, before we speak. Well, before we perform a behavior or an action, once again, that action goes through our filter, and we determine whether it’s appropriate or not if it’s going to end well or not. So we developed these filters, but have you ever noticed over time, sometimes things slip out of our filter? It’s like our filter overflows, or our filters got a hole in it? And we say or do something in the middle responses? Oh, no, no, that’s not me. I mean, that’s so unlike me, I would never do something like that. And then we just kind of resolve in our mind, well, I just got to make sure my filter is shored up that my filter, we try to plug all the holes. Well, I’ve always said stop doing what doesn’t work and do something different. Because if we rely upon ourselves over and over again, we’re going to mess up the filter is going to break.
Jesus said this in Matthew chapter 15. What comes out of the mouth, proceeds from the hurt. In other words, if you want a stethoscope to your heart, the mouth acts like a stethoscope, you want to know what’s in your heart. Listen to what comes out of your mouth. And they’ll reveal what’s in your heart. We try and we try hard to filter our words to monitor our behavior. But over time, the filter breaks down.
And ultimately something eventually comes out. And once again, what do we say? Well, we say to ourselves, I am never going to say that again. I’m never going to do that again. And resolve in our minds when we got every good intention not to do it or not to say it. And then we deny Oh, that’s not really me. I mean, what came out of my mouth where I said that? That’s not really me. I did it this morning, deny? I denied it. Allegedly, I was exceeding the speed limit. I mean, don’t we do that all the time?
I’ll maintain instead of denying what comes out of our mouth. We need to listen to it. Because it gives us a good indication of where our heart is at. And our hurts are hurt for evil. I don’t love you. Oh, no, no, no, no. My mom always said I got a good heart. I’m a good boy. What’s that what Jesus says? Jesus says, For out of the heart comes evil thoughts. Out of the heart flows, murder and adultery and sexual immorality and theft and false testimony and slander. Now, every couple of years, there are these sociological studies that are done. And the study’s last question is similar like, hey, if you could do this horrendous crime, and there’s going to be no consequences, you wouldn’t get caught. If you could perform this horrendous crime, would you do it? And it’s shocking how many people say well, yeah, I would. I mean, if I could do it and get away with it. Yeah, I’m going to do it. I mean, it’s amazing how many people agree that they will do four out of the heart comes murder in slander and sexual immorality. I mean, have you ever heard somebody say, oh, maybe it’s even you? I would never do that. I would never say that. And then you do.
See, it’s a matter of the heart. Now, I don’t know about you, but I want change. Because in all honesty, I’ve got attitude. And I say things and I got viewpoints and I’ve got these thoughts. That No, I want to change. I don’t want them I know they’re destructive. And I know they’re wrong. And I know they’re there. They’re not good. And I want them to change. But it’s so hard for us to do it, isn’t it? I’ve gone to the doctor Alaska in the within the last year, I’ve gone to the doctor several different times. And I read what the doctor is going to say, Okay, I can go in and I can say, Oh, you know, my knee hurts. You said you’re getting old. You know, and I can go on I can say, Oh, this hurts or this is wrong. They blame everything. I’m getting old right now. I’m at that point in life where they blame everything on getting old. You’ll get you’re getting older. You’re just getting older. Okay, well, I sat down with my doctor not too long ago and my doctor was talking about cholesterol. Now, I’ve never had a problem with high cholesterol. And so my doctor is talking to me about cholesterol. He’s talking about, you know, the LDL, HDL triglycerides, and then he could tell that he was losing me. I wasn’t really paying attention. So he tried this different tact. He said, I don’t want you to be out exercising, I don’t want you to be out running. And then all of a sudden you fall over because of a heart attack. I don’t want you to be out there doing something and all of a sudden, you get yourself in trouble. And you fall over. And I said, well, Doc, you know, you’ve got more diplomas in this kind of stuff than I do. But you’re wrong. I said you’re never going to catch me out there running. But his point is, you know what I mean, you could be running, you could be successful, you could be married, you could be whatever it is, okay. And if something is you could be looking good and looking strong and looking fit on the outside. But if something is wrong with the heart, you can end very badly. I mean, he, Paul, remember Paul, he wrote 13 books of the New Testament, Paul, that great missionary who, who went around the Mediterranean basin planting churches and in Asia Minor. And as far as Europe, I mean, this great evangelist, Paul says this, for I know that the that good itself does not dwell in me, that is in my sinful nature, for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do this, I keep on doing. So now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me. That doesn’t mean this is Paul. And Paul is saying, the good I want to do I don’t do and the very evil, the very things that I don’t want to do, I find myself doing it over and over and over again.
In Luke chapter 11, that Jesus was talking to his disciples. And Jesus said this if you then thought you are evil. I mean, he’s talking to his handpicked disciples. He said to his disciples if you guys are evil. And these were the men he was going to use to proclaim the gospel around the world, you see, being the very best version of you, is still evil, is still sinful. And when we finally catch on when we recognize the truth that we mess up, or that we said something, or we did something, then we apply the moral law to the act of our heart. We just promised ourselves you know what I’m going to resolve to do better, I’m not going to say that, again. I’m not going to behave like that again. And we attempt to save ourselves, we think we can fix it ourselves by our own strength, our own power, our own intellect. And when we do that, we’re focusing on self, we’re making ourselves God, we think we can save ourselves, and we’re enhancing our own self-centeredness. It’s all about me. And ultimately, there’s no change. I mean, even Paul, once again, oh, what a wretched man I am. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Who can deliver me? See, it’s only grace that can change the heart. It’s only by God’s grace and God’s power that we can live these gospel-shaped lives. It’s only by grace. Remember, this Latin term symbol, use this applicator. We are at the same time justified in the center, we’re the same time saint and sinner only in Christianity, my friends, only in Christianity, are you sinner and saved at the same time. Only in Christianity is it that we recognize the truth that we fall short, over and over and over. By our very nature, we are sinful, and yet, because of God’s character, we’re loved. Because of God, we’re forgiven because of God, we have everlasting life. Because of God, we have victory. It’s the gospel message. It’s God’s grace. And we believe it right. We know it in our minds. We believe it.
But we don’t believe it. Because if we truly believed if we could truly get our arms around it and grasp what grace is, it would transform every aspect of our life. So what is the gospel? Okay, the point of the spirit of the gospel is this. The gospel is good news. And not good advice. Okay, actually, the word in the Greek word galleon means good news. The gospel is good news, and not good advice. Advice. advice is counsel. advice guidance or direction offered with regard to prudent future action. Oh, if you behave this way, then the outcome will be this. Okay. The gospel is not advice. The gospel is good news. News is the report of what has already happened. We just have to respond to it. All of the world’s religions, all of the world’s religions, including sadly, some aspects of Christianity, give advice. Okay, things that you’ve got to do in order to know God, things that you have to do in order to earn God’s favor. Only in Christianity. Is it good news? Good news, what God has accomplished is good news of what God has done for us. All of the world’s religions are founded by somebody. All of the world’s religions are founded by some self-declared prophet are founded by some sage or, or some figure out there. Okay? And all the world’s religions say, here’s the way to God. You want to know God, that this is what you’ve got to do. This is the way you’ve got to follow in order to meet God. Only in Christianity, my friends, Does God become incarnate? Only Christianity? does God say come down to us and say, I am God, come to find you. I came to do what you could not accomplish on your own. That’s the gospel. That’s grace, God doing for us what we could never accomplish another way of saying it’s kind of like this. The Gospel does not come through Jesus Christ; the gospel is Jesus Christ. And that’s why Paul could boldly proclaim, for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Now mean, Paul thing I, when I was with you, I don’t want to know anything else other than Jesus and Him crucified. Now we know it’s an over exaggeration. But what Paul is saying there is keep the first things first. Keep makes sure it’s, you know, keep your priorities straight. It’s all about grace, God’s undeserved, unearned, unmerited love for you, you did nothing to deserve it, you did nothing to earn it in any way. But simply because of who God is, you are loved and you are forgiven. Paul understood that. And so Paul lived his life fully reliant on the gospel, fully relying on Jesus. He writes in Galatians, chapter two, a person is not justified, declared innocent made, right, so a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we to have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law. Because by the works of the law, no one will be justified. No one will be justified. See, the determining factor in our relationship with God is not our past. That determine determining factor in our relationship with God is Christ pass.
And so the point of the spirit of the gospel is the gospel takes burdens off of us. The Gospel takes advice, puts burdens on advice, says this is what you’ve got to do in order to be safe. The Gospel says no, no, no, it’s been done for you. It was interesting in some of the research getting ready for this morning’s message, I ran across some research about john and Charles Wesley, the early founders of the Methodist Church, okay, at one point, they were with one of their friends, and the three of them, they were actually reading from Luther’s commentary on the book of Galatians. And the three of them were reading aloud to each other. Now, at this point, they were not really fully converted. Okay, and they were studying and they were reading, and this is what they read, what, we have nothing than to do, no, nothing but be found in him of who God has made unto us our wisdom, our righteousness, and our sanctification, our redemption. It was at that point, when they read those words, what we have nothing to do nothing other than be found in Christ, that they came to faith. That God’s Spirit was at work in them. They talked about, they were so overwhelmed by the grace and the love of God, that they began to cry, they began to weep. They couldn’t. They were so filled with such joy that when they left the house, they could barely feel the road under their feet. The Gospel takes burdens off. There’s an account of an old farmer. His name was Nathan Coles. He was an illiterate farmer who lived up in Connecticut in the 1700s. He went to listen to George Whitfield, preach George Whitfield, and we don’t talk about him too much. But George Whitfield was this American evangelist. He preached over 18,000 sermons to over 10 million people. And he wants to hear one of Whitfield’s sermons. And he Nathan Cole says, My hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. By God’s blessing. My old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness could not see me. To get that he finally understood it. The burdens were lifted off of him. It wasn’t his actions. It wasn’t his own righteousness, I could save him, but it was only by Christ. Now I’m bringing this to you because straight up in the Christian church, here in our Savior, it’s easy for Christians to fall down two different paths of advice-giving, okay, and in all honesty, I hear it. I hear, you know, it’s like I but it’s easy for us to do this. One is legalism, and the other one is relativism. Okay. legalism is if you follow the rules, right? In our as a good number of Christian churches out there, that whether it’s explicitly it’s usually implicitly they teach legalism now they have a high view of the Bible.
Through their teaching, oftentimes, implicitly, they say that unless you do this unless you go to church so many times unless you don’t drink alcohol unless you don’t dance unless you don’t do unless you do these things or don’t do these things, well, then you’re really not a Christian. And they place all of these extra-biblical laws and rules on you, my friends, that legalism is putting a burden on not taking it off. And when you do that, it just works righteousness, you lose the gospel. Another path that many Christians take is relativism. I mean, this is running rampant in our world today, relativism, okay. It’s just basically it’s this is cultural connection; you just need to be connected to this group of people. No longer talking about judgment, no longer talking about the law. It’s just love, love, love, love. All you need to do is be part of the group join the club, you practice love, joy, peace, equity, do not rock, rock, but also that’s this new legalism. Because unless you do these things unless you belong to this club, unless you do these things you’re not saved.
Charles Wesley wrote 6500 hymns, and one of his hymns, He says this amazing love. My chain fell off. My heart was free. I mean, do you get it? He finally understood the gospel. You’re amazing love. My chains fell off and I was free. That’s what the gospel is. It’s this complete freedom. The burdens are taken off of us. It’s not you. It’s all God. And because of that grace, we can live these gospel-shaped lives because of grace. Our hearts are changed.
Tim Keller is a pastor up in New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian Church. And Tim Keller tells the story that years ago, he was preaching and this young lady walked in the door. And he recognized her, you know, saw her and he said she came for a couple of weeks. Well, after one service, one Sunday morning, he went up to his young lady and, and just introduced himself and began to talk with her. And his young lady says, I’m new in town. I work for a major television network. And she said I made a horrible mistake. She said the mistake that I made is a career-ending kind of mistake. And she fully expected to get fired. Well, she didn’t see her boss remediate boss. You know, he had a lot of social credibilities. He had credibility within the organization. He took the blame for her.
Her boss went to the higher-ups and said, you know what, it’s my fault. I didn’t train her properly. I didn’t prepare her for what was coming her way. And he took the blame for her. Now she went to her boss, and she said, I don’t understand why did you do what she did? He said, don’t worry about it. It’s all okay. It’s all okay. And she’s like, No, I don’t understand. Why would you take the blame for me? I mean, I’ve had plenty of bosses who would take the credit for something good that I did. But nobody would ever take the blame for something I did wrong. Why would you take the credit for me? To what he told her? I’m going to say this once. And you made me say it. I’m a Christian. He said, I’m a Christian. And my life is based on a man who took the blame for me. And I tried to live my life out the same way. I am forgiven. He took the blame for me, and I want to do the same thing hit see his motivation was not law. His motivation was gospel because he was forgiven. Because he somebody took the blame for him. He wanted to do the same thing. It was the gospel that shaped his heart that he showed his heart and shaped his life.
Here are some quick biblical examples of this. Peter. Peter was a Jew, Peter came to Christ, he was one of the apostles, Peter is going to eat dinner with Gentiles who are believing. But all of that tradition, all the old ways of doing things crept back upon him. And in Galatians chapter two, he didn’t want to eat with the Gentiles, because the Jew didn’t eat with Gentiles. Well, Paul, Paul addressed Peter and Paul did not address Peter with the law. But Paul addressed Peter with the gospel. He said, For, through the law, I died to the law so that we might live for God. I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. See, when Paul addressed Peter, he didn’t hit him over the head. He basically taught Peter, we’re all in the same boat, regardless of race, regardless of culture, regardless of your past. We are all in the same boat and it’s only by God’s grace, that we’re forgiven. It’s only by God’s grace that our hearts are changed. Paul, once again going to the church in Corinth was trying to gather this offering. And Paul when he talked to the People the church in Corinth, he didn’t turn to the law and say God says you got to give 10% he did not even turn to his own epistatic authority. In other words, Paul turned to the gospel. In Second Corinthians chapter eight. He says, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. See, Paul, the in terms of the law, they give 10% Paul brought the gospel down to bear on them. He said, look at how generous Jesus was with you. He gave his life for you. He didn’t tie his blood; he gave his all. And because of his generosity, because we’ve been forgiven, we’re called to be generous into forgiving as well. Again, Titus says, For the grace of God appeared, that offer salvation to all people. It teaches us to say no to ungodliness God’s grace teaches us to say no, God’s grace, God’s love teaches us just say no to ungodliness because we’ve been loved we want to live for God. So what does God’s What does a gospel-shaped life look like? Paul writes you are not your own. You were bought with a price. That’s love. That’s gospel. God loved us so much, that he very unselfishly chose us. He gave his all for us. And the gospel-shaped life we do the same. We live love unselfishly choosing another’s highest good. There’s a cultural anthropologist out of Cornell University in New York City, and that he’s not a believer. And he asked, what are we living for? What are we living for him, he takes American history and he breaks it down into three chapters? The first one is the glory of God. He said, when our founding fathers came and settled the New World America, we live for the glory of God, that that Christianity so permeated their lives, that everything, their exploration, everything they did was for the glory of God. Then in the early 19th century, it began to shift. It wasn’t for the glory of God, but it was beginning to focus on the nation. They did things for the glory of the nation, the United States, that that democracy would change the world, that democracy would save us that the government would save us that the government could take care of us. And all of a sudden, what took place was, was the glory of God was replaced by nation. And ever since World War Two, he goes on to write that what’s taking place now is the nation is being replaced by self. That we are so self-focused, that it’s all about us that we’re not living for something bigger. We’re living for self. And because we’re no longer living for something bigger, what’s happened in our culture has become more and more fragmented. We’re living for self, not for each other. We’re not living for something bigger, but we’re living for self. And he goes on to say so secularism when you when you’re focused on self, it’s extremely selfish. So many people say, well, religion can fix that, and in religion, not Christianity, but religion. Okay, yeah. Well, religion does teach less selfishness. religion teaches us to be generous with people. But religion itself becomes tribal, doesn’t it? We hang around people like us. And religion can create this haughtiness, where we look down on other people and my friends because of secularism, selfishness, because of religion. We have this declining society. It’s only Christianity. Only in Christianity, do we have fulfillment and humility at the same time? Only in Christianity, do we live for a bigger purpose.
And we know this, the problem is, we just don’t share it. We’re living for a bigger purpose. We’re living for Christ who gave his all for us. And it’s, it’s humbling because we didn’t do it. It’s all God’s grace, who did it for us. By grace, we’re loved by grace, we’re forgiven by grace, we live love. It’s a gift of God’s grace. See, we’re citizens of heaven. And because we’re citizens of heaven, we’re the very best citizens of man. We live for a higher purpose. We live love as we love Jesus, love people, and serve the world. So let’s go back to the beginning. Do you want change in your life? Do you ever reflect on what comes out of your heart? I mean, do you really want lasting permanent change in your life, you’re not going to accomplish it by sheer will. And determination. I think we do in worship. You want to experience a change in life, you want to experience a change in our culture, it’s worship.
Pastor Paul Burtzlaff
How many of you would say that you have a difficult neighbor? Like somebody next door or somebody down the street or somebody, you share a backyard with – and it’s like, sometimes, they just do things that get under your skin. How many of you would say that you have a difficult neighbor? How many of you would say that you are the difficult neighbor? Well, that’s not what your neighbors said!
About a year ago, one afternoon, I got home from work, and I went to go take out the trash. And our house backs up to an alley, and all of the dumpsters are lined up along the alley. And so, I went through our back gate. I walked over to our dumpster. I opened it up, and it was completely filled with branches and leaves and lawn clippings. The garbage truck had come earlier that morning, so whoever had put all of this stuff in had done it earlier that day. And so, I thought, “Ok, maybe our next-door neighbors were doing some trimming and needed to use our dumpster for overflow. Ok, that happens every now in then. Not a problem.” I went back inside, and I thought nothing of it.
The very next week on the very same day, I went to go take out the trash, and again, it was filled with all sorts of branches and leaves and lawn clippings. And so, I opened up the dumpster next to ours, and it was empty. And I opened up the dumpster on the other side of ours, and it also was empty. I went back inside, and I said, “Hey, Elaine, I’m pretty sure somebody is dumping their branches and leaves and lawn clippings into our dumpster every week. And the problem with that is that they’re not leaving us any room to put our trash in our dumpster. Which means we end up having to put our trash in our neighbor’s dumpster.” And Elaine said, “Well, let’s keep track of it and see if it keeps happening.”
We kept track of it, and it kept happening. But the hard part was that we couldn’t figure out who it was because we were both at work during the day. Well, finally, one day, Elaine had come home a bit earlier than usual, and as she was passing by the alleyway, she looked down and she saw this older guy dumping a bunch of branches and leaves and lawn clippings into our dumpster. And so, she parked the car, and she went over to the guy and said, “Uh, hi. I’m Elaine. I live at this house right here, and I was wondering why you’re putting all of your branches and leaves and lawn clippings into our dumpster.” And without looking up at her, he said, “It’s not your dumpster. It’s the city’s dumpster.” And she said, “Well, yeah, I realize that. But my husband and I pay the city to use this dumpster, and really, we’re the only ones who should be using it on a regular basis.” And he said, “Well I work for the city, and you can throw your trash in whatever dumpster you want.” Now, we later found out that that’s not true and he doesn’t work for the city. But to not cause a scene and make things worse, Elaine just humored him and said, “Well, um, ok, do you live nearby?” And he said, “Yeah, I live about five or six houses down that way.” And Elaine said, “Oh, ok. So, I’m guessing you fill your dumpster first and then come and use ours?” And he said, “No, I like to keep mine empty just in case I need to use it for other stuff.” Elaine just stood there confused and said, “Wait, so you’re saying that after you trim and mow your yard, you bag it up, but you don’t put it in your dumpster because you want to keep yours empty, and then you walk by 5 other dumpsters and then come to our dumpster and fill it with your stuff?” And he said, “Yep.” Elaine said, “Well, where are we supposed to put our garbage if you’re going to fill it up with your stuff?” And he said, “Well you can walk down the alley and use my dumpster if you want.” And Elaine was thinking, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense.” So finally, she turned to him and said, “Sir, all I’m asking is that if you see our dumpster is getting full, could you please not fill it with your stuff so we have a place to dump our trash?” And he said, “Listen, sweetie. I’m going to put my branches and leaves and lawn clippings wherever I want to.” And then, he walked back toward his home.
You know, one of the problems of living in a city or living in a place with a whole lot of people is that sometimes, we have to deal with some pretty difficult people. In fact, a friend of mine said this the other day. He said, “You know, there are a lot of things I love about this city. I love the restaurants. I love the parks. I love the beaches. I love all the things that you can do. But the people, man, they just ruin it. I mean, if there weren’t all these crazy and obnoxious people, this would truly be a great place to live.” Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to deal with difficult people? Like, wouldn’t it be great if all the nasty neighbors had to live together on the far side of town? Or wouldn’t it be great if all the crazy and aggressive drivers weren’t allowed to drive anymore? Or wouldn’t it be great if the people who like to put their phone on speakerphone and have a loud conversation in the middle of the store, wouldn’t it be great if they were banned from those stores? Or how about this? Wouldn’t it be great if we could go a whole day without getting a single phone call from a scammer? Friends, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to deal with difficult people?
Jonah and the City of Nineveh. –You remember the prophet, Jonah? Remember Jonah was supposed to go to the city of Nineveh and tell the crazy and obnoxious and difficult people there to stop doing terrible things? But then he didn’t. He ran from God. But eventually, God forced him to go to Nineveh. And so, Jonah stood before all these crazy and obnoxious and difficult people, and he said, “Hey guys, you need to stop doing all these bad things and sinning against the Lord, or he’s going to destroy you.” And remember, the people – they listened. They stopped doing bad things and God had compassion on them and did not destroy their city. And, friends, you would think that would be the end of the story. Except Jonah – he was angry. He was frustrated. God said, “Jonah, what’s your problem?” And Jonah said, “God, those crazy and obnoxious and difficult people in Nineveh, you shouldn’t have had compassion on them. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we just didn’t have to deal with them anymore?”
Do you remember how God responded to Jonah’s frustration? He said, Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left. God brings up a really good question here for you and I to think about today. And the question is this – should we be concerned for the people in our city? In other words, should we care about the people who live in our neighborhoods, including the ones we think are crazy and obnoxious and difficult?
This was a question that God posed to Jonah thousands of years ago, but it was also a question that people were trying to figure out during the time of Jesus. In fact, one day, as we see in Luke chapter 10, one of the teachers of the law stands up and says, “Hey, Jesus, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Well, what does the law say?” And the guy says, “Love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus says, “You have answered correctly. Go and do likewise.” And, friends, you would think that that would be the end of the story.
But it’s not. Because the man then asks a clarifying question. Do you remember the question he asked? Take a look. He said, “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, who are the people that I have to love in the same way that I would love myself? You can imagine what this man is thinking. Like, “Ok, Jesus, by neighbor, you mean like my parents and my friends and the nice little lady who lives next door. I mean those are the people I have to love, right? I mean, you’re not also talking about the crazy people. Or the obnoxious people. Or the difficult people. I mean, I don’t have to love the guy who cuts me off in traffic, right? I don’t have to love the coworker that gets under my skin, right? I don’t have to love the guy who fills my dumpster with his lawn clippings, right? I mean, Jesus, tell me, who exactly is my neighbor?”
Do you remember how Jesus responds to this guy’s question? He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. One day, a man gets robbed and he’s left for dead on the side of the road. And a priest walks by, sees him, but doesn’t help him. And then a Levite walks by, and he too sees him, but he doesn’t help him either. And then, finally, a Samaritan walks by, and he goes above and beyond to help this man in his time of need.
And so, in answering this man’s question – who is my neighbor? – Jesus’ parable shows us that a neighbor is essentially anybody who gets your attention. Or a neighbor is anybody who is in need. Which, when you think about it, that means that a neighbor could be anybody. And if a neighbor could be anybody, then who is our neighbor? Well…it’s everybody.
This has huge implications for you and I today. Because when we think about living in a city or living in a place with a whole lot of people, as followers of Jesus, we’re not just called to love the people we want to love, but we’re also called to love the people we don’t want to love. In other words, we’re called to be like the Samaritan, not like the priest or the Levite.
In light of the fact that we are called to love our neighbors, here’s the question that we’re going to be looking at this morning: How can we better live out the Gospel in our city? In other words, what are some practical ways that we can better follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as we would ourselves?
To help us answer this question, we’re going to look at a passage from the book of Jeremiah. If you remember – we talked a little bit about this in our last message series – a group of people called the Babylonians came to Jerusalem around 597 BC and destroyed the city and then ripped the Israelites from their land and brought them back to Babylon and essentially held them as prisoners. When the Israelites got to Babylon, there were some among them who said, “Hey guys, we are under no obligation to try and play nice with these Babylonians. Because after all, they’re the ones who ripped us from our land, so we just need to stick together and stay away from them and not interact with them at all.”
In Jeremiah chapter 29, God didn’t agree with this advice. Instead, He gave His people specific instructions on how they were to be a neighbor to these crazy and obnoxious and difficult people. And so, what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a look at these instructions that God gave to the Israelites, and we’re going to see how you and I can apply them today as a way of better living out the Gospel in our city.
#1 – Engage with your Neighbors- Take a look at how this passage begins. Verse 4. It says, 4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
Some of the Israelites were saying, “Hey, let’s stay away from the Babylonians.” What did God say? He said, “Hey, Israelites, I want you to move into the city and live amongst the people. Build houses. Plant gardens. Marry. Have kids. In other words, I want you to interact and engage with the people in the city of Babylon.”
You see, here’s the first way that we can better live out the Gospel in our city – we need to be willing to engage with our neighbors. In other words, we need to be willing to get out there and interact with the people in our communities.
You know, I am really glad that Elaine was the one who had dealt with that difficult neighbor. Because you know what I probably would have done once I figured out that that guy was filling up our dumpster? I probably would have called code enforcement. Or I probably would have called the community police officer. Or I probably would have put up some passive aggressive signs right on the dumpster.
You know what Elaine did? She simply went out and engaged with our neighbor. She introduced herself. She asked him questions. She tried to understand where he was coming from. And even though he was rude and obnoxious, it didn’t stop her from trying to work out this issue with him. And you know what? After that conversation, he stopped putting his lawn clippings in our dumpster. And what’s more, when we see him now, we wave and say ‘hello’ and he says ‘hello’ back. Now, he’s still not the friendliest guy out there, but there’s a connection now all because Elaine chose to engage and interact with him.
And so, you know what? We want to challenge you with two ways that you can better engage with your neighbors. And of course, we’re not just talking about the people who live next to you, but we’re talking about everyone who lives in your city.
- The first one is to engage with people at places you frequent. For example, if you get your coffee from the same barista every morning, take some time to interact and engage with that person. Or if you go to a gym and you see the same people working out in your area, take some time to interact and engage with those people.
I think about my mom, as an example. She does a really good job at this. When my brother and I were growing up, my mom would take us with her to Publix. And every single time we got to the checkout line, my mom would just start talking with the cashier. And before you knew it, the cashier would be talking about their day and what they’re worried about and what they’re going to have for dinner that night and what they’re studying in school and how they have a cat that’s named Mr. Squiggles and he likes wet food but not dry food. And my brother and I would just stand there flabbergasted. Like we were watching an episode of Dr. Phil or something. But you know what? After seeing this happen for many years, I began to realize that these cashiers really appreciated my mom because she took the time to get to know them and take an interest in their lives. And when you’re scanning groceries all day, that can mean a lot. And so, friends, much like my mom, we want to encourage you to engage with people at places you frequent.
- And the second is to engage with people more than you normally do. You know, in our culture, we have many scripts that we repeat all the time. And one of those scripts goes a little something like this. You see somebody you know, and you say, “Hi, how are you?” And they say what? “Good, how are you?” And what do you say? “Good.” And that’s the extent of the conversation. Hi, how are you? Good, how are you? Good.
We want to encourage you to go beyond the script. “Hi, how are you?” “Good, how are you?” “Good. Hey, how’s your mom doing?” Or, “Hey, how was the first day of school for your kids?” Or, “Hey, how did that job interview go?” And before you know it, the two of you find yourself engaged in a conversation about all sorts of things. All it took was engaging with that person more than you normally do.
We can’t tell the people in our city about the hope that we have in Jesus Christ unless we first interact and engage with them on a regular basis. And so, the first way that we can better live out the Gospel in our city is simply by engaging with our neighbors.
#2 – Serve your Neighbors- Take a look at the second instruction that God gives to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29. He says, 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.
You can imagine that this would have been a difficult thing for the Israelites to hear. Because after all, the Babylonians had come and destroyed their city. And yet, here is God saying, “Hey guys, I want you to do whatever you can to seek the peace and prosperity of the people who destroyed your city. In other words, I want you to make yourself useful and serve the Babylonians.”
The second way that we can better live out the Gospel in our city is by serving our neighbors. Remember what the Gospel writer Mark said? He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Friends, when Jesus walked on this earth, He dedicated His entire ministry to serving others. Because at the end of the day, He knew that dying on the cross wasn’t about Him. It was about saving people from their sin, and He did that by laying down His life for us.
And so, therefore, as followers of the one who came not to be served but to serve, you and I – we can seek the peace and prosperity of our city by simply serving those around us.
We want to challenge you with two ways that you can better serve your neighbors. The first is to serve people where you live. In other words, seeks the peace and prosperity of your neighborhood. For example, get together with a couple of people and clean up trash in your neighborhood. Or if you have an elderly neighbor who has a hard time doing yard work, offer to mow their yard or help trim their branches a few times a year. Although I will say if you do that, please don’t use my dumpster. You see, there are so many opportunities to serve right in your own backyard, and oftentimes, all it takes is a willingness to get out there and do it. Ok, so that’s the first one – serve people where you live.
The second is to serve people where you don’t live. Friends, notice that God didn’t tell the Israelites to seek the peace and prosperity of just their part of the city. No, what did He say? He said, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” As in, the entire city.
- For example, maybe you get together with a couple of people and go to a neighborhood you’ve never been to before, and you clean up trash there. Or maybe your small group decides to adopt a school on the other side of the city and help to meet their needs – whatever those may be. Or how about this one?
You see, friends, when we serve the entire city, not just our part of the city, we demonstrate that the Gospel is for everybody. That Jesus did not die for some people. He died for all people. And therefore, as Christians, there is no part of our city that we’re not willing to serve. And so, the second way that we can better live out the Gospel in our city is simply by serving our neighbors as we seek the peace and prosperity of where we live.
#3 – Pray for your Neighbors- Finally, take a look at the third instruction that God gives to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29. He says, Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
Imagine the Israelites listening to these instructions. Like, “God, first you wanted me to engage with the Babylonians in this city. Then, you wanted me to serve them. And now, you want me to pray for them? Like, seriously?”
Let me ask you – who do you pray for? When you’re laying down in bed and talking to God, who are you praying for? You know, I would venture to say that for almost every single one of us, the supermajority of people that we pray for are people that we know and people that we love.
But you know what? We want to challenge you to be praying for two other groups of people as well. The first is to pray for people that you don’t know. Friends, have you ever been in traffic on the interstate, and you finally get up to where the holdup is, and there’s a really bad accident? You ever prayed for those people in that accident? Yeah, right?
What if we did this sort of thing all the time? For example, the next time you go for a walk around your neighborhood, take a moment to look over at a house and pray for the people in that house. And then pray for the people in the next house and the next house and the next house. And before you know it, you’ve prayed for every single house on that block.
Or how about this? For those of you who are under the age of 30, this thing is called a newspaper. What if one morning, you opened up the local section, and you read an article, and then after reading it, what if you prayed for the people in that article and the situation they’re going through? You see, a lot of times, we’ll read an article and we’ll say, “Oh, that’s terrible,” or “Oh, I can’t believe that happened,” but what if we actually just stopped and prayed for these people. That God would bring them healing and wisdom and direction in the issue that they’re facing?
We want to encourage you to pray for people that you don’t know. And then second, we also want to encourage you to pray for people who are hard to love. In other words, pray for the crazy and obnoxious and difficult people in your life. Remember what Jesus said on this topic? He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In other words, pray for your crazy family member. Pray for your obnoxious coworker. Pray for your difficult neighbor. Pray for people who are really hard to love.
Remember when Jesus was hanging on the cross and the people were hurling insults at Him – what did He do? He prayed for them. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Isn’t that the heart of our Gospel message? That when our neighbor dumps all his trash into our dumpster, what do we do? We don’t go to war. We forgive them. And we pray for them. And we try and seek peace with them. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Friends, we want to encourage you that one of the ways that you can better live out the Gospel in your city is not just to pray for the people you know and the people you love, but to also pray for the people you don’t know and the people who are hard to love.
The question that we set out to answer was How can we better live out the Gospel in our city? We’ve seen, three powerful ways that we can do that with our neighbors is to engage them, to serve them, and to pray for them.
Grace changes everything. It changes the way we live. It changes the way we love. It changes the way we interact with our neighbors. And it changes the way that we view our city. And so, friends, our prayer for you today is to live out of the grace that Jesus has freely given to you by simply sharing it with your neighbors. Engage with them. Serve them. And pray for them. Amen? Amen.
Pastor Chris Futch