Home » Sin

Category: Sin

The Chair – My Easter Sunday Sermon

The Chair – John 20

Preached at Clarksville Highway Church of Christ

April 16, 2017

            Scotty Smalls, Hamilton “Ham” Porter, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Alan McClennan “Yeah-Yeah”, Michael “Squints” Palledorous, Kenny DeNunez, Timmy and Tommy Timmons are fictional characters from the movie The Sandlot. The Sandlot was released in 1993 and highlights a group of kids who spent the summer playing backyard baseball but also chronicles their mischief typical of kids that age. From Squints kissing Wendy Peffercorn by the pool to the ongoing feud with a massive dog named “The Beast” this movie is filled Americana at its finest. The movie’s main plot is Smalls effort to get a baseball he borrowed from his stepdad that was signed by Babe Ruth that was hit in the Mr. Mertle’s backyard where the beast lies. They have to get it and eventually they do through some divine intervention by Babe Ruth himself. There are a number of lines from the movie that people quote even to this day:

Ham Porter: Hey, Smalls, you wanna s’more?

Smalls: Some more of what?

Ham Porter: No, do you wanna s’more?

Smalls: I haven’t had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?

Ham Porter: You’re killing me Smalls! These are s’more’s stuff! Ok, pay attention. First you take the graham, you stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the ‘mallow. When the ‘mallows flaming… you stick it on the chocolate. Then cover with the other end. Then you scarf. Kind of messy, but good! Try some!

“You play baseball like a girl!”

What I find intriguing about that movie is how that one summer changed the lives of those kids forever. Eventually the kids moved away from the neighborhood and the team was never the same but that one summer shaped the narrative of their lives forever. It changed them. Each character in this story had an integral part and the movie chronicled how that particular summer changed each character forever.

Today is Easter which, if you have participated, is the culmination of the season of Lent that started with Ash Wednesday some 46 days ago. The season is one that historically highlights the need for cleansing from our sin and so disciplines like fasting, confession and repentance are substantial components in this season. If Advent celebrates the birth of Jesus then Lent mourns his death as a result of our sin. All across the globe, most Christians are celebrating today. While Lent does spend time in mourning and repentance, Easter itself is about newness and life. Death, as it were, could not hold Jesus captive. The grave could not contain him. This morning I want to share some stories from John 20 of different characters. Like the Sandlot, the resurrection changed the lives of these characters forever. I want to use their stories as a mirror so that by reading their post-resurrection life we can see ourselves in that story and live in the newness offered to us. I am jumping ahead. First, the text.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

MARY MAGDALENE

After Jesus rose the first one on the scene is a woman by the name of Mary Magdalene. We do not have much to go on about this woman. There are ten references of her in the New Testament and most of those centers around the resurrection. Luke records an incident in Luke 8 where Mary is mentioned in passing. There was a host of women who were cured from evil spirits and infirmities that followed Jesus during his ministry and Mary is listed as one of those but adds a detail: she had been healed from seven demons (Luke 8:1-2). Seven. It is bad enough to have one demon tormenting your spirit with malicious mischief but to have seven of those things inflicting demonic torture must have been too much to bear. Luke does not give us grand details of how it happened so all we have is a simple statement that she was healed.

In our text Mary does two things: 1) She informs Peter the body of Jesus is missing and 2) She is most likely the first person to see Jesus. For Mary, the resurrection solidified her long service to Jesus. We do not have a lot of details about Mary perhaps because she was too busy serving Jesus and ministering to him. Jesus didn’t appear first to his apostles but to a woman. Her job was to share the message of Jesus with the other disciples that he was there. I think many of us think we have to contain some huge mission for us to participate in the kingdom. Her mission during the life of Jesus was to minister to him and when he arose her job was to say, “I have seen the Lord.” Nothing magnificent or book worthy. Just simple acts of obedience.

Many times in my life I struggle at knowing if I am really following the will of God. I have this utopic vision that my walk with God must mirror Paul’s Damascus vision or it has to be grandiose in some divine fashion. Yet, many people who seem closer to God than myself (which is a lot of people) advise that to do the will of God is as simple as doing the next obedient thing. Mary was obedient to Jesus and the resurrection allowed her to flourish in that obedience sharing the message of newness with everyone.

PETER

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “Only those who are lost will find the promised land.” If that statement is true than there is no better person who bear witness to that truth than the Apostle Peter. One of the worst smells I have discovered in recent years is what I call the post-baseball-softball-soccer-foot smell. The stench is, for all intents and purposes, unbearable. I am not sure what unholy demon camps inside their sock during a ballgame but it is clear that when they take their shoes off evil is on the prowl. Something that is equally as disturbing is that a couple days after their ball game I will open my truck door to get in and to my surprise the smell is still alive and well in my vehicle.

Just two days before the empty tomb the last thing Peter did was deny Jesus despite claiming he would NEVER do so. In Luke’s account he even said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:33). It was also in Luke who recorded Peter’s three denials and then adds this eerie detail: “The Lord turned back and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord…and he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62). Here Peter is, two days later standing at the tomb of Jesus and, like my kids feet smell, the stench of his sin is still very fresh. Fresh is not the word…the smell of his sin is “putrid.” Perhaps this is why he and another disciple get in a foot race toward the tomb. We are not told the name of this disciple. Some say it is the Apostle John while others think it was Lazarus. It does not matter as to the identity of this disciple more so than the veracity of which they ran. Perhaps Peter was beat because he was not as gifted or maybe he spent too much time eating fish. Who knows?

Of all the disciples I think Peter most wanted the resurrection to happen. There was no closure and, more importantly, no meat to the understanding that Jesus died and rose for him. I think many of us are like Peter. Peter truly was not going to follow Jesus like he should until he fell completely on his back in his sin. The same pain that Peter experienced is exactly the same pain that would propel him to helping lead the early movements of the church. Jonathan Martin, in his book How to Survive a Shipwreck, said this:

If you wish to become someone and something else entirely than the you that was before the storm came . . . you will have to peer into the sea that threatens to swallow you whole, dive into the mouth of it— and trust. You will have to let God happen to you, which requires letting life happen to you, all the way down. You cannot continue to flail your arms, beat against the sea, and damn the waves. You have to let yourself go all the way under— into the depths of God, into the depths of your own soul, into the depths, of life itself.[1]

Many of you have been in this chair and are even in this chair right now. Outwardly you look like you got it together but inwardly you have not identified the shipwreck that is sure to happen. You may not deny Christ overtly but inwardly your denial is as fresh as Peter’s was. The resurrection for Peter was a fresh start on an old problem.

THOMAS

Many of you will not be able to relate with Mary Magdalene and perhaps a few of you can relate to Peter but I think all of us, Christian and non-Christian, can relate to Thomas. When everyone made the claim, “We have seen the Lord!” he had his tight fists and shouted, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Since uttering those words folks have dubbed him, “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t think that is very fair, do you? I am going to make a claim that will probably offend some but will hit home with most: “A faith that is free of doubt isn’t really faith at all.” Greg Boyd in his book Benefit of the Doubt said,

A true and living faith is never a destination; it’s a journey. And to move forward on this journey we need the benefit of doubt. There’s a kind of doubt that is appropriate as we’re making our way toward a covenantal relationship with Christ, for we need to rationally decide what and who we’re going to base our faith on. Otherwise our faith commitment is determined by nothing more than chance.[2]

Perhaps we could learn from Thomas a bit and realize that having faith in Jesus is something that is difficult. We do not have the luxury of the disciples who could see the risen Lord but that does not lessen the reality that he did rise!

If you are here this morning I totally understand if you don’t buy into this Christian thing. Perhaps you have lost loved ones tragically and somehow hearing about God’s love just does not resonate with your story right now. Or maybe you would like to believe in Jesus but there are so many who don’t act like him. Perhaps they post heated political messages or maybe they cast judgment on folks when it isn’t their place to do so. I totally understand where you are coming from. Yet, at the same time, our doubt and struggle does not weaken our covenantal relationship with him but it actually strengthens it. Think of how confident Thomas was after wrestling with his doubt and then getting assurance from Jesus himself. He wasn’t a “lesser disciple” because of his doubt, rather I would argue he had a deeper commitment post resurrection. Frederick Buechner said, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!”

YOU

So are you like Mary Magdalene? Perhaps you have faithfully served the Lord for years and your post resurrection task is to simply to follow God’s will by being obedient. Are you like Peter? The freshness of your sin is still on you. Perhaps you need to be washed today of your sin and realize the opportunities for you. Are you like Thomas? You can’t seem to make a commitment to Jesus because there are a list of things you are quite comfortable with and you have more questions than you do answers. My only statement is welcome to the club. Wherever you are these three stories remind us that the resurrection changes us. It should at least. Easter is not about chocolate, pastels, eggs, peeps, Instagram pics, cute outfits, family dinner or lunch. Although those are good things (minus Peeps which are Satanic) Easter is really about the risen Lord who offers us a chair that is at his table. Each one of us are asked to sit in the chair…

” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

Natalie Grant released a song called “Clean” that I want you to meditate on the words. Then after that song we will stand and sing together as an empty tomb gives us an empty chair so that we can sit in it and come to the table. Will you sit in that table?

Grace and peace.

_______________________________

[1] Jonathan Martin, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is On the Way and Love Is Already Here (p. 23).

[2] Gregory A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, (p. 151).

 

Tim Tebow, Virginity and Grace

I am sure by now you have heard of the news of Tim Tebow and Olivia Culpo breaking up because, reportedly, he will not have sex with her.[1] The New York Daily News reported:

“She had to break up with him because she just couldn’t handle it,” said our insider, “He still hits her up, but she just can’t deal with the sex thing. He’s pretty adamant about it, I guess.”

From that the onslaught of memes, gifs and backhanded comments have come at Tebow’s expense. I guess this should not surprise us, as when you have such a polarized view of sex it will only lend itself to an onslaught of criticism. This kind of report is only an indicator that our culture is such a sexually charged culture. Sex is in music, TV, video games, commercials, billboards, social media and every sort of outlet you can imagine.

Tim Tebow is weird and I like it and wish more people were like him but I want to emphasize something very clear:

Virginity or the loss of virginity does not make you any more or less a Christian…Jesus does. Click To Tweet

Massive campaigns (Purity Ring) and other mission efforts make virginity seem like the crème-de-la-crème of Christian virtues. If you have slipped or messed-up in this area then you are damaged goods. Jen Pollock Michel wrote a post a couple of years back called, “Virginity Isn’t Our Holy Grail” that speaks to what I am saying (long quote):

Implicit in what I’m reading about purity from Bessey, and a host of other women, such as Elizabeth Esther, Rachel Held Evans, and Carolyn Custis James, is a broad concern over how the church handles and presents God’s teachings on sexual sin. This topic matters a great deal, considering that nearly 80 percent of self-proclaimed Christians are having sex before they are married.

The church has been pushing purity standards for ages. Esther refers to the shame she carried with her as a virgin into her marriage because she’d kissed a couple of boys before her husband and because she had masturbated. Esther would argue that the church’s restrictions are becoming more rigorous, and by outlining its own capricious rules, the Church has inevitably constructed a “new and improved virginity.” But is there such a thing as hyper-purity, a sexual standard more rigorous than God’s? Referring back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, where he insists that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matt. 5:27-30), I’m not so sure.

God’s purity standard is effectively impossible to meet. We can, though, fall guilty of making God’s grace small by making sexual sin big, whenever the church insists that non-virgins are cast beyond the reach of grace. Sexual promiscuity is not the unforgiveable sin. Let’s not forget those featured in Jesus’ genealogy (Judah, the man who slept with his daughter-in-law, mistaking her for a prostitute; David, the king who murdered the husband of his mistress), nor those winning mention in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith (Rahab, the prostitute who sheltered the Israelite spies, and Samson, the man with a weakness for beautiful women).

The Bible, in weaving its long history of redemption, is not a storybook of heroes. Failure, even sexual mistakes, has not once tied God’s hands. He accomplishes what he wills through the worst of us. But unfortunately, virginity has arguably become a modern-day idol of the church. According to Tim Keller, idolatry is fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Virginity, which is rightly good, has unfortunately become ultimate, idolized in some churches as, in Bessey’s words, become “a barometer of our righteousness and worth.” Virginity is not a moral merit badge. Whether or not we have had sex before marriage, we are all lawbreakers (James 2:10). None can feel superior ¾ not even the virgins among us.[2]

To be fair, Tebow is not advocating that he is some superhero because of his virginity but the onslaught of media coverage seems to think that virginity is the mark of a true Christian. The mark of a true Christian is the outward reflection of an inner realization that Jesus, through his grace, has ransomed that person from a life of darkness. He is like the publican who simply uttered: “Have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

I will try my best to teach my children healthy sexuality but with that comes a teaching of hearty grace.

Once again my friends…all is grace.

___________________________________

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/confidential/tim-tebow-find-zone-article-1.2447008

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/february/virginity-isnt-our-holy-grail.html?paging=off

“I have a wandering heart!” – A Confession and 3 Ways to Fix It!

I am taking a short break from the Authentic Community series because I had something on my heart and it comes in the form of a question.

What do you do when your heart is everywhere except where it needs to be?

A confession of sorts…

I am probably one of the most distracted people I know. Seriously. In the time it has taken me to write this blog post I have checked Facebook three times, wrote a sympathy card and made myself some coffee. I find that not only am I distracted in tasks that I do but also in the direction my heart goes. Scriptures warns us about our hearts:

  • “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Prov. 4:23; NLT).
  • “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9; NASB)

The one thing we are supposed to guard is often the one thing we let go the quickest. When Scripture speaks to becoming “calloused” it is simply the step-by-step process of us letting our hearts go. When I find myself saying things like, “I am not as close to God as I should be,” or, “my mind is not in its right place” I am really saying that my heart is desensitized from feeling or doing anything in relation to God. It does this in a number of ways:

  • Habitual sin: pornography, affairs (physical and/or emotional), drunkenness, greed, jealousy and anger are all heart issues.
  • Defiant rebellion.
  • Compartmentalization
  • Going through the motions

A couple of years ago I went through some of the worst anxiety ever in my life. I thought I was dying on a number of fronts and probably went to a doctor twice a week for two months and to the emergency room twice. I am still recovering from this but one thing that became clear in my journaling (as I look back) was that all of the habitual sins I had left undone and my compartmentalization had finally come to a head.

Even now all I can say with clarity is “The Lord is gracious.”

So what do you do when you heart is wandering far away on the seas of forgetfulness?

Three things…

#1 – Be honest with your brokenness

I have an innate ability to abandon personal responsibility in the wake of my sin and rebellion. Shame on me. I think you have this ability as well and if we are not careful we quickly blame everyone else for our situation forgetting the one who got us here: ourselves. I am not a psychologist but I do know that in order for us to deal with an addiction we must first grab the bull of denial by the horns and press on. Addiction…Isn’t that what sin is at its core? Be honest.

#2 – Get help

My wandering heart finds its way not only when I am honest but also when I am honest in community. Looking back in my journals I see conversations I had with my wife about my sin and struggles. I didn’t find help in the corner of a room wallowing in self-pity but in honest confession to people who hold me accountable. For a while I kept convincing myself, “Well God is the one who knows my heart and so I am only accountable to him.” The theological wording for that is horse crap. James 5:16 is clear on how prayerful intercession works when we confess to one another. Get off your butt and stop reading this post and call someone and get help.

#3 – Allow some space to heal

Remember I am distracted? After a while of trying to find the right path I started to get frustrated. “This crap ain’t working,” I would write in my journal and the raw patterns of impatience coupled with a slew of misunderstandings kept my broken heart broken. It wasn’t until I eradicated unhelpful coping mechanisms and embraced the winding path of healing that I started finding true healing. I didn’t need quick fixes, trite answers or theological processes…I needed space to heal and to hear God. Using devotionals, prayers (serenity) and journeying through Scripture gave me that space

I want to say to you reading this to be strong. Please reach out to someone and get some help. Allow God to heal your heart through others. Pray to God and allow the Spirit to mend the deep recesses of your calloused heart. It is not an easy path my friend but it is the only path I want.

“Come, Lord.”