Saturday, June 25, 2016

Phantom Pain and the Remedy for Guilt

1 John 1:7 - Phantom Pain and the Remedy for Guilt

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Do you ever find yourself struggling with guilt??  

Maybe you are haunted by the memory of some long-ago failure… and no matter HOW hard you try, you just can’t seem to move past it?  

It’s always there, lurking just below the surface and whenever you see certain people - or a particular subject is discussed, that thing consumes your thoughts?

Turns out - there's a name for that: phantom pain.

Dr. Paul Brand used to tell the story of one of his medical school administrators who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg.  

Finally the pain became so unbearable that the man said to his doctor - “I’m through with it - amputate my leg.”  Surgery was scheduled immediately.

BEFORE the operation, the man asked his doctor, “What do you do with the legs after they are removed?”

“We might experiment with them a bit… but usually we just incinerate them.”  “I want mine preserved in a pickle jar,” said the vengeful patient. “I want to put it on my mantle.  THEN as I sit in my armchair, I will TAUNT that leg, ‘HA!  You can’t hurt me anymore!’”

The man got what he asked for… but in the end, it was the despised leg that had the last “laugh.”

He experienced what is called “phantom pain.”  Deep inside his psyche, it felt as though the leg was still attached… and even though the wound was completely healed, he still felt the torturous pressure of the swelling, muscles cramping, and the pain throbbing that he felt before the amputation.  He would reach out to touch it - but of course - the leg wasn’t there.  

The pain of that thing was permanently etched in his brain.

Some have that very same struggle with their past… held hostage by some sin committed long ago.  The pain of their failure is permanently etched in their soul…
  • crippling their spiritual growth…
  • hindering their ability to serve…
  • constantly struggling between what they KNOW (the Bible says) and what they FEEL.  

They’ve heard all the sermons on forgiveness… they’ve sung the songs about grace… but they are locked in a prison of their own making - CONVINCED that somehow, someway, that THING will forever haunt them.  

Phantom pain.

What do you do when dozens of trips to the altar don’t take the pain away??  What do you do when the tears fail to wash away the stains of a guilty conscience??

John has the answer in this verse.

You’ll notice when you read John’s letters that he is much less technical in his writing style than Paul.  He only deals with a handful of topics - and he drives them home again and again.  In this opening chapter of 1 John - he leads us to the subjects of God’s holiness, man’s sin, and how there is really only ONE WAY to remedy our guilt.

Though guilt is a universal problem - their IS a remedy for it right here. There are three things we must understand in this verse:

1. First, we should consider the SOURCE of our guilt.  WHERE does guilt come from?

As a believer in Christ, you will experience guilt from at least THREE sources:  

Satan - is a source.  He is called “the accuser of the brethren” for a reason:

  • He will attack your conscience with false guilt…
  • he will heap up condemnation…
  • he will work to produce such a sense of inevitability in you that you will either get frustrated and quit Christianity, or
  • you will fall back into a pattern of sin.  
  • He understands our desire to please our Father.  And he also understands how the weight of guilt grinds on that relationship.
  • He will use your friends
  • He will remind you of former indiscretions
  • He will exploit some weakness - by putting you in a position where the opportunity to sin is THERE before you  
  • He will feed the desire of the flesh for those things OUTSIDE God’s will for you.

He knows - that the WORST advertisement for Christianity is a Christian who is miserable and defeated.  

Satan is A cause of guilt.

So is ignorance.  Since many young Christians don’t understand the Bible or the doctrine of salvation, ignorance often shapes their thoughts about grace.  

  • Many churches give the impression that WORKS save a person

  • OR THAT Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to cover PAST sins… but FUTURE sins are left up to US.  

  • OR they remember something awful they’ve done in their past and just can’t believe that it has been completely forgiven.  

Ignorance is what it is.  They haven’t grown in the knowledge of the truth - they haven’t grasped the BASIC doctrine of salvation.

Which is why it is sooooo important that we avail ourselves to every class, Bible study, and worship service we can reasonably fit into our schedule… Why we should START OUR DAY with the Word of God and prayer... Why we should feed our minds on things that are pure and uplifting while in our cars or behind our computer screens.  

Spiritual growth takes TIME.  It took me 2 years before I realized I didn’t have to be saved all over again every time I failed.

But not only are Satan and Ignorance two sources of guilt…

the GREATEST cause of guilt is SIN ITSELF.  NOW that you are a believer, the Holy Spirit convicts you  when you do wrong. We can’t sin and expect to feel good afterwards.  We have been saved FROM that.  God requires us to have a change-of-mind about sin.  And when we refuse to distance ourselves FROM it, we experience guilt.

You are loved.  And part of God’s plan for you is to save you from the terrible consequences of sin.  He gives you a new desire for holiness.  A love for the things GOD loves. His Spirit warns you when you are in danger of falling.  And when you fall, He pleads with your heart to turn FROM your sin because it prevents you from experiencing fellowship with Him.

Whether it is the errant belief that believers can sin without consequence OR us simply entertaining fleshly desire - the believer is his own worst enemy when he has a cavalier attitude toward sin.

2.  But after considering the SOURCE of our guilt, notice the SOLUTION for our guilt - when John says, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

So radical and invasive is our guilt that it required  the sacrifice of God’s only Son to provide adequate remedy. Doing religious things is not enough. Being moral and an upstanding citizen is not enough. Giving to meet the needs of the poor is not enough.

ONLY the blood of Jesus is sufficient to remedy our guilt!

In an act of complete surrender, motivated by the holiness and love of God, Jesus Christ gave His life:

His death was VICARIOUS.  The sentence of death was upon ME - I was guilty before God - but Jesus took my place.  

The pure, unspotted, lamb of God became MY substitute, and THERE, on the cross, He suffered my hell, my punishment for me.

In some incredible way that my finite mind can never fully understand, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore my sin and guilt when He died on the cross.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, God “made Him who knew no sin to BE sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

His death, then, was vicarious.

It was also VICTORIOUS.  Notice what John said: “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”  

The word “cleanses” implies continuous action… so it could be said, “the blood of Jesus his Son (keeps on cleansing) us from all sin.”  Though a SINGLE event in history, it has a perpetual quality about it.  He is NOT saying that the death of Jesus was sufficient for all my sins PAST… but that it is sufficient for all my sins - PERIOD...past, present, and FUTURE.  His blood KEEPS ON cleansing me.  It will ALWAYS be enough.

Therefore - I have victory not only from the GUILT of sin - but ALSO from the GRIP of sin.

Back home, where I grew up, Kudzu is EVERYWHERE.  It is an invasive vine that overtakes everything.  You can’t hardly kill it, and it grows so fast that if you aren’t careful, it will overtake trees, houses, even stuff made out of metal like that bus on the screen.  

Kudzu snuffs the life out of HUGE oak trees.  The only way to save the tree is to sever the vine at the ground.  Oh, it won’t look any different for a while.  The vine will still cling to the tree.  But since it has been cut off it has no more power over the tree and will eventually turn brown and fall away.

So it is with sin.  It will overtake you and snuff the life out of you.  The only way to combat the power of sin is through the power of the blood of Christ.  What Jesus did on the cross CUTS SIN OFF at the root.  Though it will still cling to you - it has no more power over you and will eventually wither away.

3.  But after showing us the SOURCE and the SOLUTION for guilt… there yet remains the need for Self-Control.

John says, “But IF we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...

So, you are struggling with guilt.  No matter how many trips you make to the altar or how many times you pray about it - you keep struggling with those feelings of unworthiness.  If that’s where YOU are, there are two things you have GOT to do:

First, you must be transparent with God.  

Confess your sin - that’s what verse 9 says.  No more pretending to be one thing when you KNOW you are doing things that are off-limits for the believer.  No more going to those places and doing those things that a Christian has no business being involved in.  It’s time you STOPPED walking in darkness!

It’s time you took responsibility for your actions.  It’s not someone else’s fault.  Own up to the things you have done.  Stop putting yourself in a position to fail.
Until you commit to walking in the light, you will keep feeling guilt.

When you are living in the light of His Word and the Spirit of God is filling your heart and directing your life, you will find that guilt no longer has a place in your life.  God’s Word is like a surgeon’s scalpel… exposing our inward being - all those cancerous thoughts are revealed to the Great Physician.  

But not only should I be transparent with God,

Secondly, I must Trust Him.  The word “fellowship” is in interesting word. It comes from the Greek word “koinonia,” meaning “partnership, communion, sharing.”  Fellowship requires both parties to be involved, interested, and making an investment.  

All of us have had those relationships that seemed one-sided, where they only person who gave of themselves was US.  That gets old after a while, doesn’t it?  

Jesus will not force us to fellowship with Him.  When you are faced with a decision, He’s not going to MAKE you do the right thing.  If you want to live in guilt, if you want to struggle and find yourself stuck in the vicious cycle of sin and regret, that’s your right. But don’t expect Him to bless your decision to do wrong.  

Sin causes a break in fellowship. It drives us away from Christ.  Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden HID themselves from God after they had sinned, it drives a wedge between us and God.

But trusting Him draws us closer; it deepens our commitment.

The Bible encourages us to “trust in the Lord” for a number of reasons:

  • When the devil brings up your past in an attempt to discourage you, your trust in the Lord will combat those thoughts.  

  • You will see that when God says He forgives you and ‘removes your sins as far as the east’ is from the west, you can trust Him.

  • You should also trust that when God tells you NOT to DO a thing, it is only because He has your best interest at heart.  He knows that sin will enslave you; it will rob you of joy and ruin your reputation… He knows that there are people watching your life who are on the verge of taking the step of faith themselves - and how all of that will be destroyed if you give in to sin.

  • You should trust that with every temptation, God provides a ‘way of escape.’  You will NEVER find yourself in a position where you have no options but to sin

  • You should trust that spending time with God, learning, reading, praying - really IS important.  It’s beneficial to your whole person ⇒ particularly when it comes to this matter of sin and guilt.

You will never grow in your walk with the Lord, you will never feel fulfilled or understand your security in Christ WITHOUT fellowshipping with Him. The more time you spend with Him, the more you realize He is NOT going to throw you away every time you fail… He will NOT write us off because we can’t be perfect.  

As you fellowship with Him, grow in your knowledge and experience - you will find that sin no longer has the power over you it once had.

But you have to make the choice:

Are you going to walk in the light or stay in darkness?  

No one can make that decision for you.  So how about it? Do you need to make that decision?

Some of us may have never received Christ.  You will never be free of your guilt without taking this first step.  We offer you that opportunity today.

Others have made that step, and for a while you felt the joy and peace of God that passes all understanding!  You felt clean and close to God.  But through a series of bad choices, you’ve found yourself in a place of guilt and shame… as if God is a million miles away.

God is calling out to you, longing to forgive and restore you… but you have a serious decision to make.  You’ve got to leave the darkness, you’ve got to come back to the light of God.  

So if YOU need to take that important step, we invite you to come for prayer.  There is a remedy for guilt.  Come to Jesus today.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Candid reflections this Father's Day (2016)

‘IF’… 7 things I’d do differently as a dad

Ephesians 6:1-4 - Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you

and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Colossians 3:18-21 - Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything,

for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

“IF” - 7 things I’d do differently as a Dad… let’s pray

How often I have thought, “Boy, if I could only do THAT ONE over again.”  
Maybe it was a wrong decision… a misspoken word… a question of ethics where I did the easy thing instead of the RIGHT thing.  Truth is, if I could somehow go back in time and change some things – you better know I would!  Especially as it pertains to being a dad.

I wonder men, if you could go back - would YOU do some things differently?  

Sadly, life doesn’t afford us any do-overs.  Parenting is hard and kids don’t come with instruction manuals.  So today, I want to pass on some things I’ve learned the hard way, to help you not make the same mistakes I made.
But before I start, I want you to understand that FAMILY is very important to God.  It is the first and foundational institution of the human race.  As the family goes, so goes the church, so goes society.  

Since the family IS so important, God was sure to include clear instructions for the effective operation of the family.  Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides practical insight into how the healthy home operates.
Paul wrote both, Ephesians AND Colossians.  As you study them you will notice that the early chapters deal with errant BELIEFS in the church.  

But the second half of his letters confronts errant BEHAVIORS. One of his common topics in this section - is the family.  

With so much misinformation about the family being promoted by the world, it is important that we consider what GOD has to say about the Christian home and how it should be different from what we see in the world.

His wisdom transcends time - always relevant - always helpful.
With Paul’s counsel and my own regretful experiences to draw from, I want to share 7 things you can do, dads, to keep from blowing it with your family:
1.  First, to make your home the place God designed it to be, you need to Love your wife and make your relationship with HER a TOP priority.  

The greatest thing a man can do for his children - AFTER leading them to Jesus - is to love their mother the way Christ loves His Church.  Your priorities, your passion, your plans – should be poured into this important relationship.  

When single, men go to great lengths making their girlfriends feel cherished.  But once the vows are exchanged, the effort seems to stop. But the Holy Spirit challenges men “to love their wives” in both passages. In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.”  And in Colossians, he says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”  

“Love” her… the word is “agape” - SACRIFICE YOURSELF for her - GIVE of yourself - even when you don’t feel like your love is being reciprocated or appreciated  ⇒  LOVE her!  

The very best counsel I can give you that will help your children grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults, is for you to love their mother and to show it every day in the way you speak to her, the affection and kindness you show her.
Your children learn what love IS by watching how you relate to your wife.  

  • They learn about the roles of men and women by watching you. There is a WHOLE LOT of confusion about ‘gender identity’ today - maybe it’s because parents don’t have healthy relationships with each other?!?  

  • Girls learn about godly affection – and how a man should TREAT a woman by watching their dads.  

  • Boys learn how to handle stressful moments that happen in every family by watching their dads.  

  • Kids learn about godly priorities and what real commitment looks like – all from YOUR example.

Families are under incredible stress today: economically, socially, and spiritually – threadbare from life’s demands.  But I want you to know that SOME of the stresses we are under are self-inflicted – men aren’t doing their jobs.  

Even a casual observer can see that we place too much value on the wrong things – and it’s had an effect: our kids watch how WE live and grow up with wrong priorities.  
  • They get into financial trouble, because they have learned from US to leave God out of their budgets.  

  • They quit going to church when they get older because we taught them to put everything else ahead of God.  When playing ball is more important than church attendance, how can we act confused when they don’t want to attend later in life?  

  • In order to compensate for our lack of time and attention, we shower them with stuff – and we wonder why they grow up demanding, unappreciative, and selfish.
As you contemplate making basic changes that will forever impact your family for good, remember - loving your wife is one of the most important, impactful things you can do.  When you put God first and your wife second, above your kids, job, and SELF… your home-life will transform before your very eyes.
2.  Second, if I could do it all over again, I would spend more time with my children.  

Several years ago, Dr. James Dobson me said, “Children spell ‘love’ T-I-M-E.”  When I heard that, I was immediately brought under conviction…but I never really made the changes I needed to make.  

If I am disappointed in myself about ANYTHING, I am MOST disappointed that I made my church-work a higher priority than my family life.  I made myself available whenever someone else called – even if it meant missing a birthday or family night… but was often unavailable when MY family needed me.  

I wish someone had told me early on that a large part of being a good pastor is being a good husband and father – that part of providing for them - - -  is prioritizing them.
Those of my generation may remember the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin?  He wrote:
A child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.
Can you teach me to throw?” I said “Not today,
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s ok.”
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,
Said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I’m gonna be like him.”
Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile.
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later.  Can I have them please?”
I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away.

I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said “I’d love to dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

I’m not here to lay a guilt trip on you.  I know that most of you feel like you are doing the very best you possibly can.  What I AM doing is asking you to THINKthink about the long term effects of your decisions.  Time is a precious commodity – and we trade it for the things that we deem important.  Ask God to help you realize that your family IS most important.  Something, somewhere, has got to give.

It shouldn’t always be your family that has to sacrifice.

3.  Third, if I could go back and change some things, not only would loving my wife and spending time with my kids be a priority,

I would avoid perfectionism.  

Paul said to the Ephesians, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”  And in Colossians, he said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged..”  

If I could go back – I would be less critical...
not so hard to please.
I wish someone would have told me that you really CAN parent in a positive way.  Instead of blowing a gasket every time they mess up,
  • I would be more patient.  
  • I would give them a more realistic model to follow.  
  • I would tell them about the weakness I had to overcome as a young person… that I stumbled and made mistakes, and often failed.  
  • I would help them know I understand and am cheering for them, and that they should never doubt that I am in their corner - even when they blow it.
You see, kids are often frustrated with the standard of perfection we set before them.  Most kids really believe it is impossible to please their parents.  Kids LONG for their parent’s approval – and they get frustrated when they feel like they will never measure up or make us happy.
Don’t demand perfection.  Sometimes I think we are more concerned with how we LOOK to our FRIENDS than how we look to our kids!  

If I could go back, I would lighten up.  Overreacting gets old.  If we are smart, we will realize that humans make mistakes – especially little humans.  And if we want people to cut US some slack when WE mess up, maybe we ought to cut our children a little slack when THEY mess up.  If you want to frustrate a kid and turn him against you, keep demanding perfection.  The next time YOU blow it, be glad you have a heavenly Father who doesn’t demand perfection from YOU.
4.  Fourth, I would be a better listener.  I would listen to what they say.  I would listen to what they are NOT saying.  I would listen to their pains and problems and worries.  I would listen instead of constantly telling them to wait for a commercial.  I would do a better job listening when they are young, so they will want to talk to me when they are older.
Interesting how, when kids are small, they are little chatterboxes.  But when they get older, they quit talking to their parents – preferring to talk to their friends.  

Some of this is natural.  Some of it isn’t.  

When dads put a greater priority on a sit-com than they do listening to their children, when dads are more concerned with their work or hobbies than talking to their children, don’t be surprised when they think you don’t care.
5.  Fifth, I would pray more.  We have tried to raise our children with prayer, but I often fail to pray like I should.  
  • I haven’t prayed enough that I would be the father they need.
  • I haven’t prayed for patience and kindness like I should.  
I would pray more.  
  • Pray for their salvation
  • their purity
  • their choices in friends and in a mate.  
  • Pray that they would grow up to serve the Lord.  
  • Pray about the little things that have a way of becoming HUGE
when God is left out of the equation.  
Pray more…

6.  Sixth, I would encourage more.  Words have GREAT power.  I would affirm and encourage them.  Why?  Because all my years of growing up, I never remember hearing my father say, “I’m proud of you.”  Or, “I’m glad you are MY son.”  I don’t EVER remember him telling me he loved me.  And because of that, I spent so much of my life looking for affirmation from others...  growing up to be a man-pleaser, constantly struggling with feelings of  inadequacy and self-doubt.  

I don’t want my children to go through that.  I want them to know that I am the proudest daddy in the world… that they don’t have to look for affirmation somewhere else.
7.  And seventh, If I could go back and change some things,  I would realize that my actions speak louder than words.  What I DO means more than my good intentions.  

Looking back, I realize some very important stuff went undone.  I should have listened to God’s gentle voice of conviction sooner – because before you know it…… they’re gone.

7 things I’d do differently…WOW!  That’s a lot of heavy stuff!  But after being a dad for 28 years, I have a lot of mistakes to ponder.  

As you’ve listened to ME, I wonder if there might be some things God would have YOU do differently?  Men, our time is short.  Our opportunities to influence our kids for Christ are passing quickly.  And though I can’t do anything about yesterday,

I can do EVERYTHING about today.
Some of us need to start with the basics, and get saved.  You can’t be the father or grandfather God would have you be without taking that basic step.  And today, you have the opportunity to enter a relationship with a God who will not only forgive your failures, but will bless you with wisdom.  Will YOU come give your heart to Christ????
Maybe you are saved but you long to be a better father, and you want God’s help.  Listen, I know it’s hard…  So I encourage you to come to this altar for prayer… asking for forgiveness… and for strength.  Put some shoe-leather on your words and come ask God to help you, starting TODAY, to be a different, a better father.

Whatever you feel God would have you to do, this time is for you.