Archive | January, 2017

How God feels about sinners…even the worst ones!

31 Jan

Image result for how god feels about you

Can God save the worst sinner ever?  Would he want to?  You and I might not feel like the worst sinners ever in history, but we can often feel pretty guilty about our bad choices.  In the middle of the guilt, we wonder, “How does God feel about us when we have screwed up?”

As I mentioned last week in the intro post, our continuing study in 1st Timothy brings us to chapter 1, verses 12-17.  In that section, the writer of this letter, Paul, declares that he was the worst sinner.  He calls himself a blasphemer and persecutor, a man who arrogantly insulted God.  If you want, you can read all about it in Acts 7-9.  Paul is not exaggerating.  He was part of the same religious establishment that opposed Jesus, and now a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul was leading the charge to round up Jesus’ followers and crush their movement.

Why wouldn’t God just eliminate Paul?  Instead, Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 1:12-17 that God considered Paul faithful.  Faithful?  That seems incredulous.  How could God see Paul as faithful when Paul was on the brink of destroying God’s new movement to save the world?  The reason is that while Paul had not placed his faith in Jesus, Paul was very passionate about what he considered to be the truth about God, the Old Covenant that God had with Israel.  Therefore Paul considered the Christians a cult, a threat to the truth.

So Jesus stepped in, as you can read in Acts 9, when Paul was headed to imprison more Christians.  Literally breaking out of heaven in a bright light, Jesus revealed himself to Paul, totally changing the course of Paul’s life.   In 1 Timothy 1, at the end of verse 13 Paul looks back on that momentous event when God changed his life, and Paul says he was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief.

The word here that Paul uses to describe how much grace and faith and love God gave him is quite vivid.  The NIV uses the image of pouring, but I would argue that there is a better image.  The word is actually a compound word “over fill”.  It is the image of a cup into which a liquid is poured not just to the top, not to the brim, but overflowing.  The liquid pours out over the edges.  The container cannot contain that much!

I love that.  That’s how much grace and faith and love God gives to us!  More than we can handle.  You are the container, and God is filling you with his grace and faith and love, and he is giving you more of his goodness that you can hold!

That’s how amazing God is.

Paul continues talking about this in verse 15 where he refers to the mission of Jesus to save sinners.  Paul was the worst. Paul is using himself as an illustration of how far-reaching God’s grace is.  He was the worst of sinners.  Everyone in the early church knew this.

He was ISIS.  He was their worst enemy.  And how do you think they felt when they heard that their worst enemy supposedly changed into their strongest advocate?

No way, buddy!

How would you feel if a top ISIS leader started saying that he was now a Christian?

No one would believe him!  That’s what Paul was going through.

But the change in Paul was true, and in due time, Paul showed them that it was true.  We see clearly in Paul that Jesus has the power to save anyone and to change anyone’s life.  Even the worst of sinners.

I hear Paul saying in this passage that he was the worst of sinners, and I think “I don’t know if you were actually the worst of sinners even in your own time, Paul, but I can pretty much guarantee that with all the horrible stuff that has happened in the last 2000 years since you wrote this, you aren’t even close to the worst.”

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it doesn’t matter who is actually the worst sinner, or whether or not Paul was the worst sinner.  What matters is that Paul saw himself as the worst sinner.

And when you can be honest about how sinful you really are, then you start to see how amazing God’s grace and mercy are.  Christian pastor and author Tim Keller has said “We only fully grasp the gospel when we understand, as Paul did, that we are the worst sinner we know.”

I’ll never forget a sight I saw at EC National Conference a few years ago.  We were all singing praise to God, a normal part of our sessions of conference.  One particular song emphasized this theme of brokenness before God, of taking our sin seriously, and a man in the crowd, without any prodding from the worship leader, got up from his seat, walked down the aisle, and got down on his knees in front of the whole assembly.  He was clearly broken up inside about his sin.

Do we let ourselves off the hook?  I wonder if we haven’t fully grasped the Gospel because we haven’t taken our sin seriously?

And if you’re thinking “Man, Joel…this sin talk dire stuff.  Bleak.”  Get ready.  What comes next is a game changer.

In verse 16, Paul says something that many people think is crazy: God showed mercy to the worst of sinners!

God shows mercy to sinners, even to really bad sinners.  And more than that, why would God do this?  Paul says that God showed mercy to him so that Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

God had unlimited patience for sinners.  That is crazy talk.  Unlimited?  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is no patience and 10 is unlimited patience, where do you rank yourself?

God is a 10.  He is the only one who is a 10.

When you realize how God is so merciful, so patient with you, even when you feel like the worst of sinners, what do you do?  You do what Paul did!

In verse 17 he bursts forth in praise: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!”  Praise Him!  Paul is praising him as he thinks about how amazing God was to him.

This is who God is!  Paul is looking at the depths of evil that was in his heart and how God saved him.  And he bursts with praise.

Paul uses himself as an example of why we should praise the Lord.  But all of us have stories.

If God can save the worst of sinners, of course he can save the rest of us.

Paul is also an example for us in that he is sharing his story.  Likewise we should share our stories of God’s intervention in our lives.  And I’m not talking about only super dramatic stories.  Stories of God’s work in the non-dramatic moments are also amazing.  It is just as astounding for God to save us in a non-dramatic way as it is for God to break out of the clouds and save a Christian-killer like Paul.

All of us should have the words of praise found in verse 17 flooding our hearts and minds!

So if you grew up in a Christian family and you always believed in Jesus, that is just as awesome as if you didn’t grow up in a Christian family and have a more intense conversion experience.

Christians, be reminded of the grace, love and patience of God in saving you, pour out in praise, and tell the story!

Who was the worst sinner ever?

27 Jan

Image result for feeling guilty

Have you committed a sin lately?

Might be a question with an obvious answer “Yes!” because we all sin.  Sometimes I hear people say that they sin all the time. Others I’ve heard say they don’t sin much.

Whether many times a day or hardly at all, even one sin can have us feeling guilty.  And that is not a good feeling.  When I feel guilt, it is an actual feeling.  Very similar to feeling sick in the stomach.  And it is connected to my thoughts.  I feel guilty because I think I am guilty.  I have all kinds of negative thoughts about it.  Why did I do that?  What are the consequences going to be?  Will it be costly?  Painful?  Damaging to a relationship?  Damaging to my future?  Will people look down on me?  Will I be fired?  Will people hate me?  You know the thoughts.

What makes the thoughts so devastating is that they are connected to our actions.  We chose to act in a certain way that was wrong.

We chose to sin.  Sin.  We use that word, but what exactly does it mean?

Sin is when we act in a way that is wrong.  For the Christian, the determination of what is wrong is simply anything that God does not approve of.  There are sins of commission, when we do something God does not want us to do.  There are also sins of omission, when we do not do something God does want us to do.  Either way, by doing the wrong or leaving the good undone, God doesn’t approve.  That is sin.

That might make God out to be a cosmic party-pooper, as if he wants life to be miserable and hard.  But those of us who have walked with God for some time have found the opposite to be true.  The way of God Kingdom is actually in our best interest.  Sin, therefore, is an act against the way of God’s Kingdom, and not in our best interest.  This is why I urge you not to believe depictions of Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of ultra-serious bores.  Do you really believe his disciples would have given their lives to follow him, or that thousands upon thousands would have sought Jesus out if he was a terrible leader, dry, icy, and pathetic?  I bet he had them in stitches all the time.  And when you think of Jesus that as a great leader, you can also know that God is like that too.  He’s fun, good, exciting, and loves us.  And the way of his Kingdom is to help shape us into his image.

That’s why when we sin, we should take it seriously.  So again, I ask, have you sinned lately?  How do you feel about it?  Ever feel guilty about your sin?

Sometimes we sin so much, or we have a particular sin that seems to just have a grip on us.  As a result the guilt can be emotionally crippling.  We feel like the worst of sinners.  We’re good at exaggerating our impact, for good and bad.  The worst of sinners?  Probably not even close.  But we can feel pretty guilty.

As we continue our teaching series through the letter called 1st Timothy, we next meet someone who gave himself the title “the worst of sinners.”  If you had to list out the top 10 sinners in history, who would make the list?  Hitler?  Stalin?  There have been some pretty bad sinners.  So who is the worst?  Check out 1st Timothy 1:12-17 to get ready, and join us at Faith Church to learn more.

How to stop the drama in your life

16 Jan

Image result for how to stop dramaAre you a drama magnet?  A drama queen?  None of us likes to admit it, so maybe I should ask “Has anyone ever told you that you are a drama queen?”  Have you ever looked at your life and thought, “Why does drama seem to follow me around?”  In my post last week, I shared some suggestions for determining if you are a drama magnet.  The first step is to open your mind to the possibility.  Would you do that?  Would you open your mind to the possibility?  Read the post to learn more.

Even if you still conclude that you are not a drama magnet, I would venture a guess that most of us on this planet feel like we have too much drama in our lives.  We’d like to deal with it.  We’d like to remove it from our lives.  Know this, it is possible to stop the drama.

Yesterday, we continued our teaching series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young pastor Timothy, which is why the letter is called 1st Timothy.  Last Sunday we looked at the introduction, and yesterday we studied Paul’s first instructions, which you can read in 1st Timothy 1:3-11.  He has a command for Timothy.  Simply put, the command is “Timothy, I’ve been hearing about the drama queens in the church, and you must stop them.”

That might sound harsh, but we must remember that Paul started this church.  He knew these people well, as he had spent nearly three years with them.  He loved them, and he wanted them to thrive as a church.  When he hears about the drama, he knows that is not in their best interest, and worse, it has a strong chance of ruining the life-changing work that God wants to do in their town.  The drama has to stop.

But how?

In this passage Paul reminds Timothy that the people in the church need to have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, which will lead to love.  Basically Paul is saying that we need to be transformed within, because what is inside us what matters. These qualities turn our lives into fertile soil from which love grows.

As Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  We need to remove the junk from inside and place goodness within.  Then love will flow from our lives rather than controversy.  We’ll notice that we are starting drama much less as we love more. And when drama enters into our lives, as it almost surely will, we will be prepared to respond to it with love rather than more drama.

Paul teaches Timothy a powerful principle about Christian faith.  Disciples of Jesus stop the drama because they have been inwardly transformed.  Disciples of Jesus have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, all of which work together to build a solid foundation of love in their lives.  It is a foundation that cannot be shaken by controversy and drama that so often seeks to throw us off kilter.

The question, then, is this: how do we change from the inside?  How do we transform a dirty heart into a pure heart, an faulty conscience into a good one, weak faith into sincere faith?

We had a good discussion about this very question at sermon discussion group yesterday.  Let’s keep that discussion going in the comments below!  Please share your practical suggestions for how to change your inner life.

I have a few suggestions that I believe are basic.  When I played soccer in college, our coach required us to start every practice with 10-15 minutes of working on basic ball control skills.  You’d think that a college-level player should be way beyond that, right?  You’d think that in college we had the basics mastered long ago, so we could spend time on advanced skills and tactics.

My coach was on to something important, though.  We should see the basics as important all the time.  Just as practicing the basics is vital in sports, in music, it is in faith.  So I recommend that if you want to move on to a more sincere faith, if you want to move on to a purer heart and good conscience, then first ask yourself how you are doing with the basic habits of faith?

Basic Habit #1 – Prayer.  Are you praying that God will change you?  How often are you praying?  How can you go deeper in prayer, spend more time in prayer?  Will you need to get someone to help you pray?  Will you need to stop doing something, like watching TV, in order to make more room in your life to pray?

Basic Habit #2 – Study.  Are you reading the Bible?  Are you thinking about what you read?  How often do you read the Bible?  And when you read, how much do you read?  Do you need to get someone to help you understand what you are reading?  Most importantly of all, are applying what you read to your life?

Basic Habit #3 – Accountability.  Are you talking about your inner life with anyone?  Are you isolated?  Who can you talk to about the purity level of your heart?  Who can you talk to about your conscience?  About how to have a more sincere faith?  Disciples of Jesus are not meant to go it alone.  Instead we grow through relationship.  Just like Paul is staying in touch with Timothy through this letter, we need people in our lives to help us grow. This is also why a church family is so important.

What are other habits have you used that help you grow?



How to know if you are a drama magnet!

14 Jan

drama-magnetAre you a drama magnet?  Of course not!  No one wants to admit it.  But really, are you?

Do you find that your life seems to be filled with drama?  Have you ever considered that all the drama in your life is because you are a drama magnet?

What would you family say?  What would your friends say?  Maybe you should ask them!

Many people have written articles describing drama magnets.  Here is compilation from those articles with some signs that you are a drama magnet:

  1. Perceiving danger around every corner.
  2. Personalizing things that aren’t personal.
  3. Attempting to control things you can’t.
  4. Feeling mistreated or taken advantage of by others.
  5. Being easily overwhelmed or distraught.
  6. Taking on too much responsibility for the happiness of others.
  7. Feeling constantly caught off guard.
  8. Obsession with your appearance.
  9. Stirring up drama.
  10. Fascination with drama.
  11. You’re regularly in arguments with people, but you’re unwilling to apologize.
  12. You love airing your dirty laundry on social media.

Do any of these describe you?  If so, would you like to remove drama from your life?

The reason why I’m asking if you are a drama magnet is that is the first thing Paul talks about with Timothy.  At Faith Church we’ve started studying a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to his close friend Timothy.  Paul was one of the first missionaries in the Christian church.  During his journeys he met a young man Timothy, and invited Timothy to join him.  As they journeyed across the Roman Empire carrying the message of good news about Jesus, Paul trained Timothy to be a minister too.  Eventually, Paul assigned Timothy as pastor over the church in the important city of Ephesus.  What we learned last week is that Timothy was young, the church in Ephesus had some troubles, and Paul was concerned that things might not work out.  So he wrote Timothy a letter continuing Timothy’s training.  What would he tell Timothy?  After a greeting, the first thing Paul teaches Timothy about is drama magnets.

Some people call them drama queens.  Maybe you know one.  Maybe you are one and don’t know it.

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday January 15, 2017 as we’ll be looking at 1 Timothy 1:3-11.