St Paul's UMC
December 18, 2022
  • Away In A Manger (Mueller)
  • The First Noel
  • Doxology
      • John 6:38–40NIV2011

      • 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17NIV2011

  • It Came Upon The Midnight Clear (Carol)
  • [RECORD]
    Krista and I were on the phone with our daughter the other night - just catching up and hearing about how her life is going. She shared with joy how close she is to paying off her car loan. She bought the car two years ago, put down a decent down payment and has consistently paid more than her minimum monthly payment - knocking down her principle (the original loan amount) pretty quickly. As much as I would like to take credit for her financial discipline - she has proven to be more self-controlled than I ever was.
    Soon, the car will be fully hers. While she has been able to enjoy the use of the car, and very well perceives it as her own, the reality is that the car belongs to the bank until her loan is paid off. There is a lien on her car that must be satisfied, otherwise - she will penalized and could in fact lose the car.
    That is the thing about debt - until it is paid off, you are bound to service that debt. One of the principles of handling money in the Bible is to avoid debt if you can.
    Proverbs 22:7 ESV
    The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
    Proverbs 22:26–27 ESV
    Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?
    Romans 13:8 ESV
    Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
    Now, ever since the Fall of humankind, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and original sin entered into our DNA, there has a been a debt to be paid.
    As Paul so famously wrote, Romans 6:23
    Romans 6:23 (ESV)
    For the wages of sin is death...
    Sin leads to death. Death in our relationship with God, death in our relationship to others, death in our relationship with ourselves. Because of sin, we experience both spiritual death and physical death.
    The only way to satisfy sin and reverse the curse of death is through forgiveness. To have someone else pay the cost of sin so that you may be free.
    Let’s say, for instance, that you attend a party in the home of a very wealthy individual and in the course of that party, as you are trying to wow the guests with your dance moves, you knock over a very expensive vase from the 18th century and it shatters on the floor. The vase is worth more than you earn in a decade. While a bit shocked to say the least, the owner of the vase turns to you and says, “I forgive you.”
    Who bears the costs of the broken vase? The owner does. The costs does not just go away, there is a big negative amount now recorded on their balance sheet. The owner absorbs that cost in the act of forgiving.
    For the ancient Israelites, those we read about in the Old Testament of the Bible, God provided a way for them to receive forgiveness of sins. It was through the institution of a sacrificial system. The blood of animals would serve as a substitute for the people. It did not satisfy the debt, the animal sacrifices did not have the power to do that, but it serviced the debt until such a time in the future when the debt would actually be paid.
    In his book, Foundations of the Faith, Timothy Tennant writes, “The Old Testament had a provision for the forgiveness of sins, but it was partial and incomplete. When the Old Testament believers sacrificed a bull or a goat in God’s presence it was like signing a promissory note with a bank. The document is signed today, promising full payment at some point in the future. The definition of a promissory note is “a written promise to pay at a fixed future time a sum of money to a specified individual.” You receive the benefits immediately, but you have promised a future payment. If you do not pay off the debt at the fixed future point, then you are in default and what you have received will be taken away from you and penalties or imprisonment will be incurred.
    “The sacrificial system was a symbolic teaching tool that would hint at the kind of ultimate sacrifice required for forgiveness of sin. Animal sacrifice was a pledge to God in the present that a future provision, under the new covenant, would satisfy our debt.”
    Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the debt of all of humanity’s sin. The promissory note of those faithful believers who lived before Jesus was born was now paid in full. The sins of all who placed their faith and trust in Him, both those who knew him during his life on earth and all of those who have placed their faith in him for the last 2000+ years - have been satisfied. He bore the cost.
    1 Peter 2:24 ESV
    He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
    When we turn to Jesus, confess our sins, and repent (turn around - change direction) - we receive forgiveness of sin. This is a beautiful gift of God, this is His grace being poured out on us.
    To truly receive this gift is to be changed. All the sin you have ever committed, and will ever commit, all the harm and destruction your have caused by your words and your actions, all the hurt that has resulted, has been forgiven, the costs absorbed by Jesus on the cross.
    The curse of death is removed. Restoration of relationship with God, with others and with yourself is now possible. Mortal life now leads to eternal life.
    But there is an expectation. Having received such a gift, you now must forgive others.
    Jesus teaches us this in the model prayer he taught his disciples:
    Matthew 6:9–15 ESV
    Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
    We believe in the forgiveness of sins. We believe that Jesus has forgiven us and we are to forgive others.
    And yet, in the Church (the body of Christ), there are those who have not forgiven someone else for an offense. They harbor hatred for another, and the longer the time between the offense and the present time grows - the harder it will be to ever forgive.
    Forgiveness is costly - it costs God’s only begotten his life. It is hard to do. I believe part of it has to do with the desire for justice. The thought being that if I forgive someone, then they get off scott free and I want them to pay. So to make them pay, I will withhold forgiveness. But all that ends up doing is harboring resentment within yourself which turns to bitterness and poisons your soul. It prevents you from receiving peace and healing from the Lord.
    Romans 12:17–19 ESV
    Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
    Forgiving others is saying “I will bear the cost of this offense”, I will not exact revenge, I will give that to the Lord.
    Mark 11:25 ESV
    And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
    There is an immediacy to forgiveness. Whenever you are praying, we are talking multiple times a day, you forgive. Even before you really feel like it, forgive. If you say to yourself, I have to work my way toward forgiving this person - you likely will never forgive them. Forgiveness is not based on our feelings changing over time - it is an intentional decision that we make and then we allow the Lord to help us live it out and heal our hearts.
    We also need to take the Lord at his word and trust that when we come to him in faith and confess our sins, we are indeed forgiven. There is no new sin under the sun that the Lord has not seen before and is not willing to forgive. One of Satan’s ways of keeping us from walking in the light is to bind us up in shame - convincing us that we are beyond forgiveness. It is not true. If you are feeling convicted of sin, it means that the Holy Spirit is at work in your life and that the Lord desires you to confess it. Sin guilt should lead to confession which leads to pardon and forgiveness. Shame, on the other hand, leads to hiding and a sense of unworthiness - there is no freedom found there.
    I want to wrap up with a prayer tool that I have found very helpful in my own prayer life. It has deepened my prayer time which I must confess was getting a bit stale and usually ended with my mind wandering all over the place. If you are easily distracted - this may help you as well.
    We have an excellent resource of prayers for us to use in our time with the Lord and it is called the book of Psalms. This book, found right in the center of the Bible, is filled with all kinds of prayers for all types of occasions.
    The prayer tool I have started using is based on the acroynm:
    F - Faith
    A - Adoration
    C - Confession
    T - Thanksgiving
    S - Supplication
    For each of these focus areas of prayer, I start by reading and meditating on a related Psalm.
    For instance, for F - Faith, I may choose to read Psalm 62 which begins:
    Psalm 62:1–2 ESV
    For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
    and I will spend time expressing my Faith in God in all matters of my life.
    [I have bookmarks if you want]
    Now, in keeping with today’s topic of Forgiveness, I’m going to invite you to pray with me the prayer of C - Confession. For this particular prayer, I’m going to pray out loud Psalm 51. This prayer is attributed to King David after he was confronted with his sin of adultery and murder by the prophet Nathan. I will read a segment of verses, then you will respond with the Jesus prayer - and ancient prayer based on the times in the Gospel where people yelled out to Jesus “have mercy on me”.
    The Jesus Prayer:
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    Ready? Ok, Psalm 51.
    Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Glory be to God.
      • Proverbs 22:7NIV2011

      • Proverbs 22:26–27NIV2011

      • Romans 13:8NIV2011

      • 1 Peter 2:24NIV2011

      • Matthew 6:9–15NIV2011

      • Romans 12:17–19NIV2011

      • Mark 11:25NIV2011

      • Psalm 62:1–2NIV2011

  • Well - we made it! We are at the end of the series Foundations of the Faith: A close look at the Apostles Creed.
    And as is true in the Christian faith, the end leads to a new beginning. When we become a Christian, we put to death our old life, and we walk into our new life. The scriptures describe a new Christian as being a new Creation.
    2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
    And so it is with the Creed. Our last faith declaration is what we believe God is doing and will do when this age comes to an end and the new one begins.
    I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
    God has already shown us what happens next when He rose Jesus from the dead. You may recall the sermon a few weeks back when we reached the line in the Creed that states “The third day He rose from the dead.”
    In that sermon, you may recall me saying “The resurrection of Jesus shows us what will happen to us one day in the future. Through faith in Jesus, we can receive, right now, new life. We are a new creation. New thinking, new behavior, new spirit, new status with God as his children…but our bodies continue to die. Upon the return of Christ, the dead will rise and we will all receive our new, imperishable, immortal bodies.
    Since I spoke on resurrection recently, I’m not going to add to much more on that topic in our examination of the Creed - other than how it leads us into eternal life.
    As author and Asbury Seminary President Timothy Tennant has written: “Christians believe in a bodily resurrection. ... we do not believe simply in a spiritual state where our souls live forever. In contrast, Christianity affirms that our entire life, which includes our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our spirits, is to be redeemed.” - Timothy C. Tennent. Foundations of the Christian Faith
    Fully redeemed, restored, resurrected - humans will then be equipped for what God has in store for each us in the age to come. And his plan for us will be not to merely exist, but to fully live!
    Remember what Jesus offers us:
    John 10:10 ESV
    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
    Eternal life will be an abundant life!
    What is to come? Well, we do not know exactly. Much of what is said about the life eternal is speculation - the Bible does not provide much insight - other than to say that eternal life is to be present with the Lord.
    John 17:3 ESV
    And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
    With that caveat in place, I do think there is some indication in scripture on what we could expect.
    A good place to start is to turn back to the beginning and remind ourselves of God’s original intention for us in the Garden, before the fall, when God walked with Adam, spoke to him face to face, and put him to work.
    Genesis 2:15 NKJV
    Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
    We are designed to work. but our labor was not meant to be weary, frustrating, or tedious.
    St. Augustine, a bishop in the Church in the 4th Century, wrote...
    Old Testament I: Genesis 1–11 Man’s Work in Eden Was Not Toilsome (Augustine)

    Although man was placed in paradise so as to work and guard it, that praiseworthy work was not toilsome. For the work in paradise is quite different from the work on the earth to which he was condemned after the sin. The addition “and to guard it” indicated the sort of work it was. For in the tranquility of the happy life, where there is no death, the only work is to guard what you possess.

    The verb here translated as ‘to guard’ is the Hebrew word Shamar - which means to keep or to have charge of - the same word is used several times in the Old Testament in the context of a shepherd tending to his sheep.
    Imagine doing work that you love to do, tending to it carefully and with great satisfaction - work that has been entrusted to you from the Lord. Maybe you have experienced something close to that in your own life. Tending a garden may be a good example. Imagine tending a garden without having to deal with weeds, blight, drought or too much rain. Work for the pure joy of it.
    Now if, before sin and death entered the scene, human kind was meant to rule over creation, as God commanded in Genesis 1:28
    Genesis 1:28 ESV
    And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
    and we were to work in paradise in peace and tranquility - could that not be what is before us in the life eternal?
    Eternal life is a promise for all who in faith, trust and follow the Lord. This promise is found throughout the Bible.
    John 3:16 ESV
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
    We also heard it in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus, the good shepherd, has come down from heaven to seek and search for his lost sheep, and when he find us, we can rest secured that we are now his and will be with him forever.
    John 6:38–40 ESV
    For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
    Jesus will resurrect us and we will join him to live as God lives - eternally.
    Returning to the book Foundations of the Christian Faith, this is what Tennant believes we can expect:
    We will be unleashed into endless creativity and deeper discoveries about God’s creation. For all eternity we will be brought deeper and deeper into the full glory and mystery of the Trinity and his self-revelation. We will learn to love him and one another in deeper and deeper ways. We will, ultimately, be like him because we will finally see him face-to-face. As John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). Timothy C. Tennent. Foundations of the Christian Faith.
    So let’s use some holy imagination and contemplate what would be possible we are “...unleashed into endless creativity and deeper discoveries about God’s creation.”
    God has made us in his image. He has fashioned us to be creative beings, given us the capacity of knowledge and wisdom, compassion and mercy, and gifted us with various skills, talents and abilities.
    Listen to Psalm 8
    Psalm 8 (ESV)
    O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
    To have dominion over means to govern, to have authority, to gain control and to rule.
    In the Kingdom to come, governance and rule is rightly administered because sin is no more, corruption is unheard of, self promotion is not a temptation, all things are done for the greater good and under the perfect will of our Lord who reigns.
    Oversight and care for the new heaven and new earth will be given to a redeemed humanity.
    Exploration of the depths of knowledge surrounding God’s Creation will continually amaze us. To fully understand what has been hidden or out of reach.
    Will we explore the far reaches of the universe? Will the flourishing, living habitation on the new earth be found on planets throughout the galaxy - with redeemed humans travelling and having dominion over newly discovered worlds. Who knows what God has planned?
    What we do know is that God’s promises do not expire. His Word is forever true.
    Jeremiah 29:11–13 ESV
    For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
    The life eternal is worth fighting for. It is the hope that we place before us as we live each day in this age. Life here and now is difficult. We enjoy glimpses of what is to come - but it is fleeting.
    Thanks be to Christ. For he has already redeemed those who turn to him in faith. And he is calling each of us to live now as if the Kingdom of God is already fully realized. We live both in the now and the “not yet”. This means that we live with love for one another, peaceably as much as it depends on you, we work for justice, extend mercy to others, practice hospitality, and enjoy the fellowship of the saints.
    Our words and actions are not going unnoticed and if we are faithful, our rewards await us.
    1 Timothy 6:12 (ESV)
    Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
      • John 10:10NIV2011

      • John 17:3NIV2011

      • Genesis 2:15NIV2011

      • Genesis 1:28NIV2011

      • John 6:38–40NIV2011

      • Jeremiah 29:11–13NIV2011

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