Living A Lie

Lance Armstrong (born 1971) dominated the world of professional cycling. He won the Tour de France seven consecutive times, from 1999-2005. He was the face of the sport. Can you name another cyclist? I can’t. For years the UCI, the Union of Cyclists International, suspected Armstrong of taking steroids, doping. For years Armstrong denied it. Then it happened. He grew tired of the lies and confessed it was true. The first one he told was Oprah Winfred (born 1954). I did not learn anything from the interview I had not suspected for years. Lance Armstrong was a doper! Lance Armstrong was a cheater! Lance Armstrong was a liar! Since his confession, he has been stripped of all his titles and has faced a mountain of lawsuits from past sponsors. Many consider Lance Armstrong to be the greatest cheater in the history of professional sports. Today’s blog is about lying. However, it is not about lying for personal gain. It is about lying to yourself.

We are in the eighth chapter of the gospel of John, verses twelve through twenty. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. To be exact, he is in the temple courts. That was the place where rabbis taught their students. It is early in the morning, but a crowd has already gathered for another lesson. As Jesus surveyed the crowd, he knew it was going to be a bad day. For in the crowd were his well-organized enemies, the Pharisees. You remember them. They were experts on the law. That was no small task because there were 613 laws found in the Torah. The negative commandments numbered 365, which is the number of days in a solar year. The positive commandments numbered 248, which is the number of bones and organs in the human body. If you add the negative commandments and the positive commandment, there are 613 commandments. The Pharisees believed keeping those 613 laws was the key to spiritual enlightenment. The Pharisees believed keeping the 613 laws would hasten the return of the long-awaited Messiah. They did not just hope that was true. They believed that was true. In the end they were lying to themselves. That is why they were so outraged at Jesus.

They must have been shocked when Jesus uttered verse twelve, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” What does that verse men? It means Jesus is the key to spiritual enlightenment. It means the Pharisees are wrong. Then, a debate broke out between Jesus and the Pharisees over authority. The Master won the debate because he knew where he had come from, and he knew where he was going. The Pharisees knew neither because they were living in the dark. They were sincere, but they were living a lie. Do you know of anyone who is living a lie? You must know someone. There are so many.

In the world today, there are 1.8 billion Muslims. I hate to say it, but they are living a lie. There are many sincere Muslims. Islam teaches death happens when the body and the soul are separated. Muslims believe they will stay in their graves until their Day of Judgement. The spirit returns to their earthly home on the seventh and the fortieth day after their death. Also, the spirit returns to their earthly home on the first anniversary of their death. In Islam, Allah decides when everyone will die. There are some elements of Christianity there, but they are missing a savior. In Christianity, God left the perfection of heaven to be the prefect sacrifice for the sins of the world. A life without Jesus is living a lie.

In the world today, there are one billion Hindus. I hate to say it, but they are living a lie. They believe humans are in a constant cycle between life and death called samara. They call our spirit the atman. At death, the atman simply moves on to another person. The life you are living now has been influenced by your previous life. If you have a hard life today, it is because of the bad life you live in the past. If you have a good life today, it is because of the good life you lived in the past. The goal is to live a perfect life so you can exit the cycle. Can I be honest with you? One life is enough for me. I do not what to again.

In the world today, many do not believe in an afterlife. According to the Pew Research over 7% of all Americans are atheists or agnostics. When they die, they simply believe it all ends for them. Some famous people are, or were, in this category. You know their names:

          Morgan Freeman

          Brad Pitt

          Woody Allen

          Daniel Radcliffe

          Stephen Hawking

          Sigmund Freud

          Thomas Edison

          Karl Marx

There are others, but I do not have the time. They are not just living in denial. They are living a lie. Who wants to live when there is no hope of a happy ending? I long to go to heaven.

George Lee is a retired United Methodist minister in the area and a good friend to me and this church. Years ago, he told this illustration and I never forgot. A woman in one of his churches did everything in the church that was humanly possible. She sang in the choir, served on all the committees, and never missed worship. She went to every Trustee workday. She taught Sunday school. She worked in the kitchen. She had a certain assigned job in the kitchen. She peeled the potatoes. She peeled the potatoes for years. She pealed more potatoes, then anyone in the history of that congregation. One day, George was told she had cancer. She fought the disease with a positive attitude. Unfortunately, the disease was winning. One night, George was called because the end was near. He went to the hospital to be with her. When he arrived, he found her in a weakened state. She looked up at him and said, “George, have I pealed enough potatoes to get into heaven?” George said his heart broke. She played a large role in every part of the church, but she missed the main message. There simply are not enough potatoes! There just is not enough anthems. There are not dinners to cook or classes to teach. There are just not enough sermons to preach. We are not saved by our good works. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. Our only hope of salvation is Jesus!

It is called works righteousness. It is a product of the Protestant Work Ethic. What does the Protestant Work Ethic say? It says anything worth having is worth working for. It built our country. The problem is it promotes works at the expense of grace. I hear it at nearly every funeral I preform. The loved ones gathered in front of the casket and report on the live of the deceased. He or she loved everyone, and everyone loved them. They would do anything for everyone. They would give you the shirt off their back. Then, someone will say it, “If anyone deserves to go to heaven it was them.” I have never corrected a single person at that moment, but this is the truth. The loved one does not deserve to go to heaven. The loved one deserved to go to hell and so do you. I hope you are not living a lie. We are not saved by what we have done. We are saved by grace! You know the old Gospel story!

Jesus was born in the ordinary way, but he lived an extra ordinary life. There was something special about Jesus. After all, he was the son God. He loved and respected everyone. He taught about the Kingdom of God in a small geographic area. He healed the sick and the afflicted. He deserved to live a long and happy life, but that was not part of the divine plan. He threatened the leaders of the orthodox faith and made some powerful influential enemies. It was during the Passover one of his own agreed to betray him. Judas Iscariot did it for thirty pieces of silver, but he regretted that decision later. He would hang himself. Jesus was arrested while praying in the garden. Within hours he would face two trials. The first was in front of his own people. It was a monkey trial. He did not have a chance. They had everything they needed but the authority to execute Jesus. The one with that authority was the Roman governor, Pontius Pilot. He saw through the scheme but lack the courage to confront the crowd. In the end he sentences Jesus to be executed, and releases a notorious criminal, Barabbas. The solders followed their orders and made the fast few hours on Jesus’ life miserable. The Romans used their way of executing. Jesus dies on a cross between two thieves. The cheers of Palm Sunday had been replaced by the tears of Good Friday. Everyone thought it was over. Everyone was wrong. There was a surprise ending.

Early on Sunday morning, a handful of women went to the tomb. They must have walked slowly. Their hearts were heavy, and their minds were full of questions. They did not have a clue what had happened. The stone was rolled away, but Jesus’s body was missing. At first, they fear the body had been removed by one of Jesus’s enemies. Then, they are informed that Jesus had returned to life. It is too good to be true. They run to the disciples to tell them, but they refuse to believe them. They run to the tomb, and they found the account to be true. A short time later they encounter the resurrected Jesus, himself. Over the next forty days Jesus appeared to a variety of people. Then, Jesus ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit filled the believers. There is no other way of saying it. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything! That is not a lie. It is the truth.

The Apostle Paul did not lie. He told us the truth in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hear God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” It is my favorite Bible verse. Jesus did not lie to the Pharisees in the temple courts all those years ago. Jesus is the light of the world! Plato (427 BC – 427 BC) once said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Are you living a lie?

Are You Born Again?

We find ourselves in the third chapter of John, verses one through eight. The storyline of John is different than the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They have Jesus cleansing the temple at the end of his ministry; it is part of the climax. John is different. He has Jesus cleansing the temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2). That fact is important to us for only one reason; Jesus had the attention of some very powerful influential people from the very beginning. If you want to get someone’s attention, then touch their money. It is still true today.

One of those powerful influential people was Nicodemus. According to the second half of verse one, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council. That means he had climbed to the very top of his profession. It is safe to say Nicodemus spent his days answering the questions of others. This story is unique because he is the one with the question. With everything that has been written about this passage through the ages, one thing is important to remember. This story is nothing more than a private discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. It is John, the author and editor, who promotes this private discussion to the public’s attention.

According to verse two, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. There is some debate about that fact. Some say Nicodemus went at night so the darkness could help hide his identity. How would it look for a trusted member of society to go to Jesus, a man with no credentials? Others say he went to Jesus at night so the two could talk privately. There was time to talk. The business of the day was done. Maybe it is a combination of the two? However, this point is crystal clear. Nicodemus went to Jesus because he was impressed by the Master. No ordinary man could have performed such miracles; he must have come from God. Jesus hears through these kind words and knows the real topic, salvation! That takes us to the key verse in the reading.

Jesus says in verse three, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Two thousand years later, the world is still wrestling with those words, so we should not be surprised that Nicodemus wrestled with them that night. Nicodemus thinks Jesus is speaking of physical birth, reentering your mother’s womb. That sounds painful for everyone involved. However, Jesus is speaking of spiritual birth. The two are as different as night and day. This is the plain truth. From the moment you were physically born, you struggled to survive. Babies cry to fill their lungs with oxygen. The goal of life is survival, so the most important person in your universe is you. Spiritual rebirth is different. From the moment you are reborn, the most important person is God. Spiritually immature people live for themselves; spiritually mature people live for God. Which is more important to you? Are you the center of your universe, or is God the center of your universe?

Let me take you a little deeper. One of our primary understandings of God is that God practices free will. In other words, God may be directing history, but you are directing your own life. The choices you make are yours, so the burden of responsibility rests on you. So many things in life distill down to a choice. It has been reported the average person makes 35,000 choices in a single day. That figure seems high to me. (I know that figure is true because it came from the internet.) Some of our choices are simple choices. What are you going to have for lunch? Some of choices are harder? They will affect the rest of your life. Some choices have eternal consequences. That is what we find in the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus is telling Nicodemus he must be born again. So, this is the question of the day.

Are you born again? Do not answer too quickly. Your answer has eternal consequences. If you are born again then Jesus should be affecting every corner of your life. Remember, those who have experienced a physical birth live for themselves. Those who have experienced a second spiritual birth live for God. To answer the question of the day correctly, let me ask you three secondary questions. This is question number one.

Is God pleased with the way you are spending your time?  

One of the great stories in the Bible is the story of Mary and Martha. It is found in Luke 10:38-42. You know the story. Mary and Martha were sisters of Lazarus, the one who Jesus resurrected from the dead. The Master stops there on his way home to Jerusalem. For you see, their town, Bethany, was only two miles from the Golden City. When Jesus arrives, Mary sat at Jesus’s feet and hung on every word he spoke. Martha, on the other hand, slaved away doing the necessary duties, cooking and entertaining. That was the traditional role of women at that time. In time, Martha resents doing all the work and goes to Jesus to enlist some help. Instead of a helping hand, she receives some divine truth. Do you remember that divine truth? Jesus applauds Mary for her priorities. Martha filled her time doing good things, cooking, cleaning, entertaining. Mary filled her time with the best thing in life, Jesus. How do you fill your time?

Is God pleased with the way you are spending your time? I am not talking about spending your time in sinister ways, selling drugs or embezzling funds. However, I am talking about spending your time just doing good things, work, family, friends, church committees and fundraisers? How much time do you spend on the best thing, Jesus? That question challenges your priorities. Perhaps, this is a better question. How are you spending your time? Is God pleased with the way you are spending your time? If you are born again then God is the center of your universe. Are you born again? This is question number two.

Is God pleased with the way you are spending your money?

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989) was elected President of the Philippines, which made his wife, Imelda (born 1929), first lady. They held those posts until 1986, when the entire family fled to Hawaii. The international news was fascinated with what was left behind. After having ruled a poor country for decades, the inventory was impressive: 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags and approximately 7,500 pairs of shoes. (However, Time magazine reported she only owned 1,060 pairs of shoes.) For your information, I only own four pairs of shoes; one is an old pair of sneakers for when I work on the lawn. Within a short time, Imelda Marcos was labeled the most selfish person in the world. One can only imagine how the world would have benefitted had she shared her wealth. Do the people in your world consider you selfish? In 2018, Imelda Marcos at age 89 was sentenced to forty-two years in prison for corruption.

Is God pleased with the way you are spending your money? Money is limited, so we only spend our money on things that are important to us. So, money is revealing. How much money do you spend on yourself? How much money do you spend on your family? How much money do you spend supporting the ministry of the church, the bride of Christ? How much money do you spend responding to human need? Imelda Marcos spent a fortune on shoes because shoes were important to her. What is important to you? Is God pleased with the way you are spending your money? If you are born again then God is the center of your universe. Are you born again? This is question number three.

Is God pleased with your personal witness?

We are only in this world for a short time. How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as a kind person? Will you be remembered as a generous person? Will you be remembered as a loving person? Will you be remembered as a selfish person? Will you be remembered as a person who was passionate about your favorite team? Will you be remembered as a person who was passionate for God? Imelda Marcos owned 7,500 pairs of shoes. How do you think she will be remembered? How will you be remembered? Is God pleased with your personal witness? If you are born again then God is the center of your universe. Are you born again, or do you have some work to do?

It is like watching history. On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin (born 1952) announced in a prerecorded television broadcast he had ordered a special military action inside of Ukraine. It was not a complete surprise. I am not an expert on Eastern European history, but there has been tension between Moscow and Kiev for years. Some believe it can be traced back to the Bolshevik Revolution (1917-1923). The Ukrainians did not support Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and the Bolsheviks. The Ukrainians were punished for their lack of support. The Soviets starved the Ukrainians. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Ukraine became an independent nation. Russia has been trying to reclaim that land sense. In 2005, the Ukrainians expelled their Russian backed President because he failed to keep a campaign promise and join NATO. In 2014, the Russians took Crimea without a shot being fired. The latest military action is not as much a surprise as a continuation. Like Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) expected quick victories in the Second World War, Putin expected a quick victory, but it is not happening. The Ukrainians are fighting back. The west has responded with severe economic sanctions. The fragile Russian economy is crumbling, but the Ukrainians are suffering. The United Nations has reported more than 1,000,000 Ukrainians have left their country. That figure may jump to 5,000,000.

Nightly, I watch reports on those refugees. It is heartbreaking. Mothers/wives are taking their children to safety. Husbands/fathers are staying in Ukraine to support or serve in the Ukrainian army. Those men are willing to sacrifice everything, to change everything about their lives because they love their wives, children and country. There is no doubt about it. Love is the most powerful force in the world. We are not afraid to sacrifice and change for those that we love.

It is the story of the Christian faith; how much do you love God? How much are you willing to sacrifice for God? How much are you willing to change for God? The time has come to change the way you spend your time. The time has come to change the way you spend your money. The time has come to change your witness. Are you the center of your universe or is God the center of your universe? It is the question that will not go away. Are you born again?

God’s Top Ten

Did you know there are more than 30,000 federal laws have been created in the history of the United States? The “An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths” was the first law passed by the United States Congress after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. It was signed by President George Washington (1732-1799) on June 1, 1789. Parts of that law are still used today. Did you know the United States has more laws than any other country in the world? It has been said, the United States is held together by a series of laws.

We find ourselves today in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. Much has already happened. We covered some of this last time and you remember the movie. Moses was born a Hebrew, but he was raised in the palace of the Egyptian Pharaoh. However, his Hebrew blood would not permit him to ignore the harsh lives of his own people. One day, in a fit of rage, he kills an Egyptian soldier in defense of his own people and flees the authorities. For the next forty years, Moses builds a new life. He marries a woman named Zipporah and worked for his father-in-law, Jethro. Moses had no plans of returning to Egypt, but God had a different plan for Moses. God heard the cries of the enslaved Hebrews and sent Moses to liberate them.

That would not be an easy task because the Hebrews were the backbone of the Egyptian economy. Moses’s request to liberate the Hebrews fell on the death ears of the Pharaoh. To break the will of the arrogant leader, God sent the plagues. Count them with me:

  1. Water Into Blood
  2. Frogs
  3. Lice
  4. Flies
  5. Diseased Livestock
  6. Boils
  7. Hail and Fire
  8. Locust
  9. Darkness
  10. Death of Firstborn

That is the one that did it. The Pharaoh agrees to free the Hebrews, but a brief time later, he regrets that decision. He sends his troops after them, but they never return. His army drowned in the Red Sea. The entire country of Egypt must have mourned. However, for God’s Chosen People, it was a different story.

The Hebrews rejoiced because their future looked bright. God summons Moses to the top of Mount Sinai. It is there that God does something new. The Almighty gave to Moses what we call the Ten Commandments. Few question the significance of the Ten Commandments. Their ethical teachings are fundamental in both Christianity and Judaism. How many can you recite?

  1. You shall have no other Gods before me.
  2. You shall not worship false Gods.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. You shall keep the sabbath day Holy.
  5. You shall honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet.

Scholars consider the Ten Commandments a treaty between God and humankind. There is no give and take in this treaty. It is a matter of complete surrender. God expects complete submission, allegiance, and obedience from humankind in response to his mercies and powers. Ten Commandments may seem like a burden, but Jewish tradition tells is there were 613 laws in the Torah. You can call the commandments Moses received God’s Top Ten.

Periodically, we look at the story of the rich, young ruler. It is in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. On the surface, he has it all. He was rich so he can buy anything his heart desires. What would you buy if money was not an obstacle? He was young so his health is good. If you have your health, then you have it all. He was a ruler, so he is influential. He had everything, except one thing. His soul is restless, and he questioned his own salvation. For this reason, he searches out Jesus to find spiritual peace. When the two meet, he asked the Master the key question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him if he had kept laws five, six, seven and eight? He answered, “Yes!” He had honored his father and mother. He had not taken a life. He had been faithful to his wife, and he had not stolen a single thing. The young man’s heart must have jumped for joy, but his bliss did not last long. Jesus tells him, he only lacked one thing. He must sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, The young ruler leaves broken hearted because he just cannot do it. The story tells us keeping the Ten Commandments is a good thing, but they cannot save your soul. However, that does not mean the Ten Commandments are not important.

The people at Crossway say there are four reasons why the Ten Commandments are important. First, the Ten Commandments identify us as God’s people. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “We are a chosen people, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into the wonderful light.” The Ten Commandments identify us as God’s people. Second, the Ten Commandments reveals the very heart of God. They do not just tell us what God wants. They tell us who God is. The Ten Commandments tells us about God’s honor, worth, and majesty. They tell us what matters to God. The Ten Commandments reveals the very heart of God. Third, the Ten Commandments tells us God wants a personal relationship with us. God does not stand in the distance to observe us. God entered this world to become one of us. To experience all that we experience. The Ten Commandments tells us God wants a personal relationship with us. Fourth, the Ten Commandments liberate us to do what is right. 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not a burden.” In other words, the Ten Commandments liberate us to do what is right. The ten Commandments are important, but they will not save your soul.

Recently, Ken Burns (born 1953) released his newest documentary. The subject is Muhammad Ali (1942-2016). I am not sure I am going to watch it because my father, Ronald Adams (1920-1996) is still influencing me. He did not like Ali, who then was named Cassius Clay. If I close my eyes and listen, I can still hear my father complaining about him. He considered, Ali an arrogant loudmouth. He considered him a coward and a draft dodger. My father called him something I will not repeat because the word he used then is considered politically incorrect now. Because of my father’s influence, I am uncomfortable with the rebranding of Muhammad Ali. Once hated, Ali is now being called a hero. Today, we are told Ali was more than a great boxer. He was also an activist, entertainer, poet, and philanthropist. The media is promoting the documentary by promoting Ali’s life. They have quoted Muhammad Ali many times. The quote I have heard several times is, “Service we pay to others is the rent we pay for our room in Heaven.” I have nothing against community service, but I have to say this. Ali may have considered himself the greatest, but he was a horrible Christian theologian. We are not saved by our good works. That is called works righteousness. We are not saved by the Ten Commandments. We are saved by grace, and by grace alone. You know the story.

Jesus was born in the ordinary way, but he lived an extraordinary life. He never committed a single sin, and he should have lived a long complete life. That did not happen. He was found guilty of loving everyone and had to die. On a Friday, he was executed Roman style on a cross between two criminals. When his body was taken down, they placed it in a tomb. It was sealed with a large stone, so the smell of his decaying body would not escape. Let me say it clearly. Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. Except for tears, nothing happened on Saturday because Jesus was dead. It was unlawful to touch a dead body on the Sabbath. His loved ones mourned, and they asked the question, “Why?” Nothing happened on Saturday, but things did happen on Sunday. A handful of women showed up at the tomb to treat his body and made the discovery that changed our world. Somehow Jesus had returned from the dead. I have never been able to explain the resurrection because I cannot explain a miracle. However, that miracle changed everything.

Your belief in the resurrection is not optional in the Christian faith. It is indispensable. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” That quote does not come from Muhammad Ali. That quote came from the Apostle Paul (5 AD – 67 AD). It may have been the first creed in the history of the church. The question is not if you follow the Ten Commandments. They are only guidelines for holy living. The question, is do you believe in the resurrection?